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This is one of those films where I wish that I had been at the pitch meeting. How did they describe this movie in one sentence, and how did they get someone to put up the money to make it? The reason I'm asking is that Lars and the Real Girl has one of the strangest plots ever, even for an Indie film. Lars and the Real Girl is offbeat not because it's about Lars and a real girl but because actually it's the story of Lars (Ryan Gosling) and a fake girl. The girl in question is an anatomically-correct blow-up plastic girl that Lars bought on the internet. Lars is definitely weird and completely unsocialized. He lives alone in the garage of the house that he and his brother (Paul Schneider) inherited from their father. The brother and his pregnant wife (Emily Mortimer) live in the house. Buying the doll is slightly weird but that's just the beginning because Lars thinks that "Bianca" is a real girl. The pictures below show his brother and sister-in-law's first meeting with "Bianca."
That Lars is working through some "issues" concerning his upbringing is obvious and his "break" with reality seems to have been brought on by Mortimer's pregnancy. Besides Mortimer there are two other important "real" girls in Lars' life. They are the town doctor (Patricia Clarkson), seen below left, and Margo (Kelli Garner), seen below right, who works with and has a crush on Lars. Clarkson takes on Lars as a psychiatric patient, and advises his family and the whole town to treat Bianca as if she were real in order to help Lars. At first, everyone is just going through the motions but slowly, the whole town begins to accept Bianca as a real person and she begins to lead a life of her own, even getting elected to the School Board!
Lars and the Real Girl works so well because the uncomfortable feeling that I felt as Lars squired Bianca around town was echoed by the characters on the screen. They and I had to work through the creepiness together. You just have to see it to believe it, but it works. Lars and the Real Girl is helped along by a great Indie cast. Ryan Gosling has been building his Indie rep with movies like last year's Half Nelson. His ability to make himself and Bianca into a believable couple reminds me of Fred Astaire making a hat stand into a great dance partner in Royal Wedding. The rest of the cast is very strong, led by Mortimer, Schneider and Clarkson. It's nice to see Clarkson in a good role and looking so good. She was in a similarly weird Indie film a few years ago, The Station Agent, which introduced us to the diminutive Peter Dunklage. Ironically, the first movie I saw Paul Schneider in was called All the Real Girls., which was also the breakout film for Zooey Deschanel. He is very good as the "normal" brother in Lars and the Real Girl. Finally, there is Emily Mortimer. She is just amazing. Every character that she plays (Lovely & Amazing, Match Point) exudes a certain inner loveliness. She is the perfect person to play the one who loves Lars most and works hardest to understand him.
The director, Craig Gillespie, is yet another first timer who seems to have come out of nowhere. At least the writer, Nancy Oliver, is a veteran of weird stories since she worked on Six Feet Under. Like I said, Lars and the Real Girl is really different. Every once in a while there is a film that is so good and sweet and weird that you just have to see it. For me, these films, usually by first-time writer/directors, like The Station Agent, Rushmore, Garden State and Whale Rider, make going to the movies worthwhile. So if you only go to one movie this year, it should be Lars and the Real Girl.