' Cinema Romantico: Lars and the Real Girl

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

Capraesque - "Of or evocative of the movies of Frank Capra, often promoting the positive social effects of individual acts of courage."

I watched Frank Darabont's "The Majestic", a clear ode to Frank Capra, on Christmas Day 2001 with my mom and my sister. Personally, I didn't much care for it. It shoved its wannabe' whimsy in your face. It was a ham-fisted homage to Capra, achingly desperate to let you know about its intent to be an homage. Even more interesting, though, was listening to the reaction of the crowd as we departed the theater. I was not the only who disliked it, and I was nowhere near as vocal. Complete disdain is the term that springs to my mind for how my fellow theater-goers felt. Perhaps our generation is too cynical, too full of sarcasm and irony, too caught up in whether or not things presented on movie screens would ever happen in "real life", I thought, too go with fable-like films anymore. I was convinced that evening there would never, ever be a Frank Capra film for my generation.

The premise of Craig Gillespie's "Lars and the Real Girl" (by the way, we are now five months into 2008 and this is another great movie from 2007) hollers Indie Comedy from the mountain-tops. Ryan Gosling is the title character, a painfully shy young man in a small midwestern town who lives in a small room behind the house where his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his pregnant wife Karen (Emily Mortimer) reside. Early on we see Karen literally have to tackle Lars in the driveway to make him come inside for dinner and a chat. At his job a co-worker shows Lars a web site that advertises making your own blowup sex doll from scratch, though Lars appears to have more interest in his new female co-worker (Kelli Garner) even if the prospect of human interaction is to frightening for him to talk to her.

But a few weeks pass and a giant box shows up at Lars' home. It contains one of those blowup dolls, whom Lars christens at Bianca (she is half Brazillian and half Danish and sort of shy). He brings Bianca into Gus and Karen's home for dinner and then wonders if she can stay in their spare bedroom since she's religious and the two of them shouldn't really be sleeping together at this point. The reactions for both a guy and a girl in this situation seem spot-on. They are both flabbergasted, of course, and certain Lars needs to see a doctor, but where Gus is unwilling to accept it and convinced it is his fault, Karen is accepting and welcoming of this blowup doll to their home.

The doctor (Patricia Clarkson) tells Lars she will need to see Bianca once a week due to her "illness" and thus is able to provide some therapy for the unwitting Lars. She tells Gus and Karen that he has created a delusion and suggests they go along with the existence of Bianca until Lars doesn't need her anymore.

This is set-up is quite clearly ripe for lowbrow, broad humor. The man's carting a blowup doll around in a wheelchair, for God's sake. It also has the potential for that horrifying uncomfortable sort of humor that gets deep and dark. But screenwriter Nancy Oliver (she was nominated for an Oscar) sets her sights on something else.

Lars is not viewed as a misfit within the community. Instead the townfolk genuinely like him and are determined to do their best to help him. When Lars drags Bianca to a party there may be a few people who make some low key comments but for the most part these people are portrayed as willing to assist in whatever way they can to help him get better. And as they help him change, he helps them change. One for all and all for one.

Gosling's lead performance is also key. He has to teeter on that proverbial tightrope, always close to toppling into either over-the-top humor or cheap sentimentality. He's acting with a blowup doll but can never make it appear that he's acting with a blowup doll. He makes you laugh, but not necessarily at him. He makes you cry, but simply by letting you watch him. He is entirely sincere.

And if you'll allow me to pause review-mode for just a moment I'd like to ask that we collectively as movie-goers take the proper time to appreciate what's going on with Gosling. It is highly probable that 30 years from now he will be viewed as the definitive actor of his (allow me to use the word again) generation. And if that's the case we must realize we are actually living through the first leg of an amazing actor's journey. It would have been like living through those early 70's DeNiro films. Savor it, movie fans, 'cuz you're here for it.

Are people really as kind-hearted as this movie shows? In a world of blowup sex dolls on the internet would people really rise to the occasion in this sort of manner? I'm not sure, but I'd truly, deeply like to believe they are and they would and that, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes it a fable. My thoughts on Christmas Day seven years ago turned out to be wrong. "Lars and the Real Girl" is my generation's Frank Capra movie.

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