Lars and the Real Girl
Directed by Craig Gillespie

Written by Nancy Oliver

Starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Patricia Clarkson


Lars and the Real Girl

When my son was four he had an imaginary playmate named John Albert. John Albert worked in a hospital and gave people injections. One afternoon, with an older friend of his sister, Nick made a map of John Albert's world, which we still have in his scrapbook. As you can imagine, his mother and I were enchanted by the whole thing. Now comes "Lars and the Real Girl," which is about a 27-year-old who also has an imaginary girlfriend, except that she's not imaginary; she's an anatomically-correct woman blowup doll, whom he names Bianca. Let me say that I am not enchanted with her.

I was unsure what to expect from the film, but as I watched "Lars and the Real Girl" my first question was, Why in the world did anyone think this was a good film? My second was more a prayer: God, let me get out of here. But I did stay till the end, and I wish I could say it was worth it. This is the kind of movie that gives independent cinema a bad name. People will go to see it and roll their eyes and then will be lost forever to anything but the Farrelly brothers.

"Lars" is the story of, well, Lars, a 27-year-old with a severe mental health problem: He's bought himself an anatomically correct female doll, Bianca, whom he gives a back-story to - she's part Brazilian and part Danish and is a nurse, and whom he carries around in a wheelchair. Please note that he does not use her for sex; she simply sits where he puts her, goes to sleep in a bedroom of his brother and sister-in-law's house, and basically is used to keep other human beings from coming close to him. Lars is played by Ryan Gosling, an actor I've admired ever since "The Slaughter Rule," as well as "The Notebook" and "Fracture." But here he plays with lips that won't stop pursing, eyes that can't focus, and a silence when spoken to that drives you crazy. He needs help.

But then, in the way of all fairy tales, good triumphs over embarrassment, because the whole town decides to welcome Bianca, treat her as, well, a 'real girl,' and his older brother and sister-in-law, played without affectation by Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer, simply adopt her, bathing her, putting her to bed, and so forth. Early on they take Lars and Bianca to the village doctor (Patricia Clarkson), who by a strange coincidence that only a scriptwriter could come up with, is also a psychologist, and little by little she finds a way through Lars's defenses - if she didn't, this movie would never end.

Yes, "Lars and the Real Girl" is a disaster, but no doubt a disaster that all involved - except maybe the screenwriter - will surmount.