In Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays a shy loner who is henpecked by nagging family and friends determined to engage him. He reacts to their attempts to set him up on dates and hang out in familiar and realistic shy guy fashion. Then he buys a sex doll which he falls in love with and all at once we’re transported to a world I could only recognize as the familiarly formulaic “quirky indie film.” Of course it’s in the Middle West (Ontario in real life), the last bastion of quirky, lovable, soft-headed townsfolk with hearts of gold and fresh-baked good intentions.
What I had hoped was going to be a semi-comic observation along the lines of Punch Drunk Love or Chuck & Buck in one contrived bit plunged straight into the territory of an SNL sketch-cum-movie or an Improv skit that goes on for way too long (i.e. over 3 seconds). OK, it’s not as bad as those examples, mostly because of the casting and because you don’t have Horatio Sanz cracking up at the hilarity of it all. Ryan Gosling goes a long way in making Lars a character we care about even while the script or direction provide almost no insight into what’s going on in his head aside from contrived instances with a psychiatrist. We never know if he really thinks the doll is real; does he ever have moments of clarity? What made him change from a believable loner into a delusional cinematic joke? We never know much of anything that goes on inside. You won’t laugh, you won’t cry, even though it’s calculated to make you do just that. Ultimately Lars is just an icon with funny hair, funny clothes, a funny name and a funny relationship with others a la Napoleon Dynamite. Here’s hoping he doesn’t similarly inspire a legion of “hipster” imitators or else I’m going to have to make a lot more calls to the Redneck Squad.
I get the feeling that director Craig Gillespie (who also made the critically-despised Mr. Woodcock) didn’t keep us distant from Lars deliberately like
Todd Haynes did in Safe with Julianne Moore. Lars is viewed as a curiosity from arms length through the eyes of a guy whose prescription for socialheterogeneity seems to be getting the world’s “weirdos” laid or, at the very least, some hugs.
There are a couple of shots of the sex doll that register on the outskirts of funny and disturbing, but for the most part Lars and the Real Girl is (like Waitress or Little Miss Sunshine) only about as quirky as a Halloween episode of Friends.
Almost too edgy for an in-flight movie or your great grandmother. The story slowly flows along toward inevitable plot markers at molasses speed and then ends, gratefully, sort of abruptly.
Jesus H. Christ is reportedly “totally jealous” of Craig Gillespie’s recent spate of miracles
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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