Thursday, November 01, 2007

'Lars' Keeps it Real

If the story of a grown man who falls in love with an anatomically correct sex doll purchased on the Internet sounds like fodder for a low-brow comedy, or perhaps a high-brow “adult” film, the new indie feature “Lars and the Real Girl” might come as quite a surprise.

In his mid-30s, Lars (Ryan Gosling) lives in a small rural town in a garage across from his brother and pregnant sister-in-law. He works in a cubicle and doesn’t seem particularly unhappy, but when a full size adult female doll is delivered to him and he announces it’s his girlfriend, Bianca, we start to see how troubled Lars is.

At the urging of his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer), Biana is taken to see the doctor (Patricia Clarkson) who slowly coaxes Lars to understand his feelings.

While all that sounds like the stuff of melodrama, you won’t find that here. Rich in subtlety and its presentation of complex messages and emotions, “Lars and the Real Girl” emerges surprisingly as a tender and heartfelt meditation on loneliness. But what keeps the film moving is its gentle humor, even while tackling the ideas of painful childhood memories and the things we do to cope.

The film’s rural setting is necessary to sustain the action of the plot, as neighbors and friends bend to the acceptance of Bianca as a contributing society member – a circumstance that accounts for most of the movie’s laughs.

Much of the film’s success is owed to Gosling, who presents Lars as a fully functional, emotionally repressed younger brother who is struggling with some very deep issues. While critics may scoff at the absurdity or divisiveness of the premise, once its novelty has worn off, there’s a film with real characters and a real heart.

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