LARS AND THE REAL GIRL directed by Craig Gillespie, written by Nancy Oliver, with Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer and Kelli Garner. An Equinox release. 106 minutes. Opens Friday (November 2). Rating: NNNN
In Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays a small-town guy who works in an office and cuts himself off from other people, even though his sister and brother-in-law try to include him and a girl at the office (Kelli Garner) sort of has a crush on him.
He orders a full-size, solid-body sex doll from Japan that he introduces to people as Bianca, and everyone in town plays along with his delusion.
This is actually a much better picture than its synopsis suggests, though it's easy to understand why female reviewers have recoiled from it. Dana Stevens at Slate verged on calling it a film about necrophilia, and Manohla Dargis in the New York Times savaged it.
I liked it, in large part because, with a premise that's such a balancing act, tone is everything, and it manages to find the right one.
Turn the film five degrees to the right and it becomes a humourless movie-of-the-week about a guy who "can't connect." Turn it five degrees to the left and it becomes a Farrelly brothers comedy about a guy whose chief relationship is a delusion.
Scenarist Nancy Oliver wrote eight episodes of Six Feet Under, a show that walked exactly that tonal tightrope. Full credit to first-time feature director Craig Gillespie (despite the release dates, he helmed this film before Mr. Woodcock), who holds the tone, and to Gosling. He's an actor who's willing not just to play a character who might seem to invite laughter, but to do it in a haircut and moustache that scream "David Arquette in that 20-second window when we thought he was going to be a star."
This is really a film about the power of magical thinking. It isn't just that Lars thinks his life-size "love doll" is a real person; in a very strange way, the entire town becomes convinced of her humanity, and yet the film never topples over into whimsy. You start waiting for the townspeople to do something really stupid, but they don't.