I'd bet almost everyone during their childhood years would have interacted with their toys somehow, be it outwardly verbal, or playing it all in the mind. Conversations with dolls, teddy bears, or even with G.I. Joe himself beating up Cobra Commander, these are stuff of what a rich imagination would be made of, breathing a form of consciousness onto inanimate objects.
Some kids don't grow up of course, retaining their childlike mannerisms within a grown up body. Ryan Gosling's Lars is a gentle, soft-spoken man, extremely shy but ever ready with a warm smile that can melt the sternest of hearts, and when nervous or anxious, blinks hard. Living in the garage (by choice) of a house occupied by brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his wife Karin (Emily Mortimer), we learn that Lars has a condition of being delusional, and his extreme introversion causes him to absolutely abhor signs of affection.
It's been a while since I remembered a movie having a central character spending much time interacting with an object, the most memorable of course would be Tom Hanks' Chuck Noland being castaway on an island and finding companionship with Wilson the volleyball. Here, Lars finds a new security blanket in his mail order sex doll he christens Bianca, which is highly customizable, anatomically correct, and quite attractive to boot. Furthermore, it's not just one character that gets all emotional with it, in fact, the entire small midwestern town does, where everybody indulges Lars and his new friend, at first to curious stares, but slowly warming up to even Bianca as well, as their tender reactions now turn into immense efforts bringing Lars out of the shell.
And would you believe that the director for Mr. Woodcock helmed this movie? I suppose one would have imagined that with a plot device like a sex doll, it will be extremely easy to traverse down the path of comedy. However, Lars and the Real Girl avoided that with a ten foot pole, being contemplative, and for the most parts, surprisingly quiet. It's a sublimely warmhearted movie about community, love, and relationships forged under trying circumstances. It's unconventional in its approach to conventional themes, and therein lies its wonderful charm with a pinch of quirkiness.
Those who have enjoyed Ryan Gosling's performance in Half Nelson will find that he's again in fine form, and personally I felt he did much better here. He brings out the innocence of Lars succinctly, and his performance will without a doubt touch many with his earnestness in being a Boo Radley without ill-intentions to people around him, and wanting to be left alone doing his own thing. It might seem like a one man show again, but the supporting casts are given ample opportunity to shine and complement Gosling, with Emily Mortimer being the ever supportive pillar of strength in the household, juggling all the weirdness with her pregnancy, and Paul Schneider the opposite, a skeptic who feels responsible and remorseful for Lars' condition. Patricia Clarkson and Kelli Garner play the other women in Lars' life, the former the psychologist treating his condition, and the latter a co-worker who's equally shy in expressing her true feelings for this man-child.
The power of the mind and imagination, to say that it's powerful would be a gross understatement, and to witness how honest emotions get to conquer mental conditions, is indeed a joy to behold. Lars and the Real Girl succeeds in being mature about the treatment, and having a great cast deliver the goods superbly, is already a major plus. Should you not want to sit through another teenage sex-romp comedy like Superbad, then let not the notion of having a sex-doll on screen turn you away, as you'll be pleasantly surprised by the end results. Recommended!
Lars and the Real Girl sneaks this weekend, and opens in theatres on 25th Oct 2007.
P.S. Like Knocked Up which featured a real site in Mr Skin, those smitten with Bianca will be happy to know the site featured in the movie is real too, though a standard real doll will set you back by about US$7K no less. As I know I have readers in their teens, I will not be adding actual links to the websites mentioned here.