Lars and the Real Girl

By

I know what you’re thinking…well, I know what I’m thinking. “A review of a movie involving a sex doll? In the Rabbit Room??” But we are all safe because, well…suffice it to say, I recommended this film to my mom. My mom. I knew I was going to like it, because hey, his name is Lars Lindstrom and he wears fair isle sweaters — what’s not for a good Swedish girl to like? What I didn’t know was how the film’s quiet, stealthy tenderness would move me, or how Ryan Gosling’s nervous facial tics would immediately endear me to his character, or how sweetly this strange story would unfold and lay itself bare.

Disclaimer: I’m afraid to write this review. Why? Because I know, I know, I KNOW, like a mama bear knows her bear cub, like a pianist knows middle C, like a Canadian citizen knows the national anthem, that I will inevitably leave out scores of reasons why I loved it so. I’m still stepping out in faith and trusting that you will fill in the blanks and show me mercy if you do decide to see it. Okay, I feel better now.

Lars lives in the cold, whitewashed North in the garage apartment of his parents’ home which now belongs to his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider) and his pregnant wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer). He is painfully shy and socially awkward. He is usually found clinging to a grey blanket his mother crocheted for him when she was expecting him. His mustachioed, apprehensive smile is clouded with sadness. The family are worried about him — concerned that he’s slipping further from reality every day, only confirmed by the fact that he orders a, um….doll….named Bianca and introduces her as his girlfriend. (This is where I’ll go ahead and tell you that it never seems to occur to Lars to make use of the doll for her original purpose. You can breathe now.) Bianca is wheelchair-bound, she conveniently lost her luggage, she ‘doesn’t speak much English’ because she is ‘from the Tropics.’ He explains that, since they are both God-fearing young folks, he would like for her to sleep in the main house’s Pink Room, which belonged to his late mother. When Bianca is taken in to see Doctor Dagmar (played graciously by the lovely Patricia Clarkson), Lars’ brother and sister-in-law are basically told that, to be most helpful, they must go along with his delusion. Their conflict is at once excruciating and hilarious.

The townspeople rally (albeit reluctantly for a handful of them) and offer a heart-warming display of support for this unusual relationship with understanding, emotion, and true class. (Oh friends, you MUST see this movie!!….aaaahhhhhh!!!!!….it’s so gooood!!! moving on….) In a few of my favorite vignettes, most lovely and memorable, Lars takes Bianca to the woods and shows her his childhood tree fort, sings Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” to her in a funny tremolo, smirks as he cuts her meat for her at the dinner table and playfully eats from her plate, and reads poetry to her.

Bianca, along with everyone who takes good care to include her in the community, ends up healing something in Lars, and the film closes with promise and hope — perhaps dim and slow in coming, but still shining. I will spare you any more of my sub-par summations, for I fear they are shooting off in all possible directions like fireworks gone bad. I will, however, leave you with these words which are marks of what this film portrays: Poignant. Warm. Sad. Sweet. Offbeat. Hilarious. Redemptive. Beauty-filled.


14 Comments

  1. Travis Prinzi

    Great, great movie. One of my favorite films in recent memory. I love that the hero of the movie was the community. It’s a great picture of what the church should look like helping each other through weaknesses. No one in the community acted superior and condescending (well, a few did, but everyone seems to get over it).

  2. Loren Eaton

    A stupendous film that’s — surprisingly — pretty clean, for all you apprehensive types. It’s a wonderful example of turning a quirky premise into great storytelling.

  3. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Ugh! you’re killing me… I’ve been wanting to see this movie since I saw the trailer many months ago. I need to make more time in my life… I so wish I comment on the content of the film with you, but suffice it to say you’ve got me wanting to see this more than ever. Can’t wait, thanks.

  4. Evie Coates

    @eviecoates

    I watched part of it again last night because my housemate was watching it with a friend (turns out I just can’t quit). Here’s a simple, short exchange between Gus and Karin as they lay in bed the night after all hell breaks loose. It made a deep cut in my heart, once more:
    Gus, with a belabored sigh: “What is everyone going to think?”
    Karin, as she strokes his cheek: “We can’t worry about that.”

    AH. Such beauty.

  5. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Good call, Evie. I love this movie. The fundamental kindness and compassion of the characters are so moving. And they behave the way they do without agenda, without seeking personal gain. It’s interesting and ironic that such a quirky, unconventional off-beat premise depicts such uncommon decency. On the other hand, goodness and beauty are often found off the beaten path. To find it, we need to be looking closely. It’s often found where and when we least expect it.

  6. Boyd

    Hi. I recently got my own copy of Lars on DVD. Would have liked a commentary track on it, but alas. Still there is a very funny featurette where the cast and crew relate to and with Bianca as the characters do in the film.

    My favorite scene is between Gus and Karen when Karen comes into the living room and sits on the couch in the evening to read her book. Gus is sitting opposite her on a lounge chair. He starts to open up about his struggles and feelings of guilt and as he does so, inadvertently plays with his wedding ring (I often touch my wedding ring when I want to be reminded of my wife and marriage). Karen puts her book down and calls Gus over to sit beside her and hugs him and holds him and nurtures him in a way only a wife can. It is so everyday and yet so affirming.

    I think that is the word I would use to sum up the film. “Affirming”. It’s also a story about grief I think. Bianca is really a catalyst for people having to address things in their lives. For Lars I think she is a means to addressing (at least some of the way) all the grief and fear that has built up in his life, which has hampered him from participating in the lives of others. The film is a wonderful journey of grief and joy. That beautiful mix of the the bitter and the sweet, that midway emotion which is so powerful. The longing.

  7. Tim

    This was a great movie. Emily Mortimer should have been nominated for an Academy Award, she was absolutley amaizing in this film. Also, the portrayal of the church in this movie is so incredibly unlike Hollywood, it gives me hope for better things to come from the indie film world.

  8. jeremy

    evie,
    thanks for the recommendation…my wife and i would have never have seen this movie had it not been for your review…we were instantly won over…my wife and i will listen to your advice now…any more suggestions?

  9. Brandon Kisner

    I just watched this movie over the weekend. My sister and brother-in-law had been wanting to watch it with my wife and I and I was a little resistant to the idea. I was just not very interested from the title for some reason. But I loved it. The part that sticks out in my mind is the scene where Lars performs CPR on the Teddy Bear. This movie came out around the same time as Dan In Real Life and I remember thinking they had similar titles. That’s another great movie with a lot of cool moments between family members.

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