How far would you go to not feel lonely anymore? More often than not loneliness is a personal issue, which director Craig Gillespie perfectly portrays in Lars And The Real Girl. Former Six Feet Under writer Nancy Oliver tells the story of close-closeted Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling), who is extremely reluctant to get close to anyone, not even his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) or sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) who live only feet away.
Lars goes through the motions of normal life (going to work, going to church), but as much as he tries to act normal everyone can really see that Lars is lonely. No one thinks much of it, until Lars buys a life-sized female doll (whose name is Bianca) and treats it as a real-life woman. The film could have easily turned into a slapstick comedy given the material, but luckily never does. Of course, there’s comedy (how could there not be), but that’s not what the film is about.
It’s hard not to find humor in Lars and Bianca’s relationship, and amazingly every actor finds those perfect expressions of trying to remain both calm and sympathetic despite being in very difficult moments of disbelief and shock. The dining room scene where Lars first introduces Gus and Karin to Bianca is particularly cringe-inducing, but without having the dialogue be overtly comical or having Gus and Karin’ reactions be remotely condescending or distressed over the sudden realization that might be something wrong with Lars.
There’s an emphasis on Lars being delusional, not sick or hallucinating. This can go a long way toward dispelling many misconceived notions about the term mental illness. Not surprisingly, most of the town has the initial reaction that Lars is crazy, but come to the truth that Lars is a good guy and are willing to do whatever they can for him. In a way, the movie is a tribute to the cohesiveness and solidarity of small towns. In a larger city, laughter and snickering would follow Lars wherever he and Bianca were publicly together, but eventually (in small town fashion) everyone goes beyond simply accepting Bianca as not being just a love doll, and instead (to Lars’ great surprise) embrace Bianca as another member of the town.
Lars’ delusion isn’t that he believes Bianca to be real but that he feels the need to have Bianca’s love because he thinks no one else loves him. But that isn’t the case. The town loves Lars so much to treat Bianca as a real person. Gus, the most reluctant participant, tries to do his part, even putting Bianca to bed (glass of water included) when no one (other than Karin) would know he doesn’t.
Guilt is the most obvious reason for the town’s efforts, but the blame is partly (if not wholly) put on Lars. He constantly rebuffs Gus and Karin’s repeated breakfast and dinner invites. He chooses to live in the garage when he could easily move into the house. He ignores the affections of his coworker Margo (Kelli Garner) who doesn’t hide her attraction to Lars.
Fortunately, he doesn’t rebuff his doctor’s (Patricia Clarkson) efforts to find the true cause for his delusion. It’s not like he isn’t completely aware of his situation. If he didn’t, he would have Bianca not want to work in a clothing store, volunteer at the hospital, or read to school kids. Bianca says yes because she wants Lars to know that people care about him.
Gosling plays Lars with a reserved shyness that is neither gloomy nor ridiculous. Gillespie directs with a kindhearted subtlety. Much credit goes to Oliver’s screenplay which doesn’t deviate into anything vulgar or sexual (and the Farrelly brothers keep coming to mind) or get bogged down into a morality lesson (Lars goes to church every Sunday). The story is handled respectfully and responsibly and it’s as much about compassion as it is about loneliness.