Movie Review: By Ben Boquist
Ryan Gosling’s star is rising fast! Already this year he has starred in three blockbuster movies (Crazy, Stupid Love, Drive and the Ides of March) all of which have been critical and financial successes.
At just 30, the Canadian star has 16 feature films to his credit (and the awesomely cheesy TV series Young Hercules)
But his best work, in my opinion, is on a lesser known film called Lars and the Real Girl. The film was released in 2007 and tells the story of a shy hermit named Lars who falls in love with a sex doll named Bianca.
To those unfamiliar with this film, the premise sounds ridiculous and easy to dismiss. But don’t be fooled. Lars is as wholesome as a midwest potluck.
Lars (Gosling) is a 27 year old recluse who lives in a shed adjacent to his brother and sister in law’s house somewhere in the American Midwest. For the role, Gosling gained 30 lbs and grew a mustache. In every scene, he hides behind layers of clothing, and avoids eye contact. Gosling infuses every close up with humor, pain, anxiety and sadness. The result is a complex, sympathetic character who we see make tremendous strides through the course of the film.
Just when Gus and Karin are about to give up hope, Lars tells them his new girlfriend Bianca is coming to dinner.
The two are excited that Lars has finally found someone, but their hopes are dashed when Lars brings a life sized anatomically correct sex doll into their house.
Delusional, Lars has made up an entire backstory for Bianca (who he met online.) He tells them she was raised in a convent and that she will need a wheelchair, as hers was displaced during her flight.
After much debating, Gus and Karin decide to play along with Lars’s delusion. They enlist the help of their psychologist, Dagmar, their church, and eventually their whole town.
At first the townies are hesitant, but eventually they accept Bianca (and by extension Lars) until finally Lars can accept love from a “real girl.”
This is one of those rare feel good movies that manages to be warm without ever being cheesy, and awkward without ever being painful.
Even the most embarrasing scenes (like when Lars brings Bianca to his office Christmas party) are redeemed by Lars’s good nature and the kindness of his friends.
Through the script, Screenwriter Nancy Oliver (fresh from the HBO hit Six Feet Under) asks the question “What would happen if we treated mental illness with compassion, rather than pills.”
Being a mid westerner, it’s always refreshing to see my people depicted in their best light. When tragedy strikes late in the film, a group of church ladies line up at Lars’s door with casseroles.
When Gus and Karin express concern that Lars is spending too much time with Bianca, the towns people elect her to the school board to give Lars an evening free.
It’s rare in this day and age to find a film so clever, heartfelt and devoid of cynicism.
Hopefully Gosling’s star will continue to rise. But to me, he will always be Lars.