Monday, March 16, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl

Dir. Craig Gillespie

Viewed: From the Couch

One of these days the film universes' planets will align and Ryan Gosling will appear in an all-around great movie -- one that is equal to Goslings' skills as an actor. Even in the worst of his films (take your pick) he shines as bright as the best of him. Just like any number of good actors out there that make questionable choices in the roles they pick. Except by this time in their careers they've usually landed in one or two movies that don't just exist for their benefit -- that actually step up to meet them. But so far, with a couple really close calls, Gosling has yet to be in a film that doesn't have serious problems, the kind that prevent me from ever recommending one of his films. In Lars in the Real Girl, it's pretty much 50% of the film. And yet, it's one of his better movies.

Ryan Gosling plays Lars Lindstrom, a recluse at 28 who literally has to be tackled and dragged to dinner with his oblivious brother and sympathetic step-sister. Lars' journey from out of his anti-social cocoon is the center of the movie and the hook is that it happens through his delusional relationship with a mail order, anatomically correct, plastic girlfriend named Bianca. That this is the element of the movie that works, that Lars' climactic kiss with Bianca is extremely moving, is all due to Ryan Gosling. Honsetly, I'm pretty close to recommending the movie just so you can watch how he gets his character to that scene and makes every moment he has with Bianca defiantly powerful. He manages to bring sympathy and realness to Lars despite the rest of the movie trying to drag us into Northern Exposure territory. Not that there's anything wrong with that series, it's simply that Gosling's intensity is like oil and water with the rest of the movie's cute quirkiness.

For one reason or another I was reminded of Be Kind Rewind during Lars. Both films feature the reassuring premise of a community coming together to save a piece of itself. In Michel Gondry's film we're existing in a fantastical world where you can happily suspend your disbelief and enjoy the rose-colored view of the world. In Lars, the color is next to completely drained from the film and we're watching a disturbed man play out a fantasy that may or may not end up in a complete mental breakdown. All the while, along the sidelines, we're being shown how much everyone else in town is more than willing to play along with Lars' fantasy because they care for him so much. Why? I guess because he faithfully goes to church? That must be it because for every other minute he's kind of an ass.

Every moment the movie simply focuses on Lars and his metaphorical relationship with Bianca, it works. The rest of the movie consists of scene after scene of cutesy townfolk taking Bianca to the salon, to the mall, etc. That the townspeople are so recpetive to Lars and willing to play along is something that helps Lars tear down his wall -- but it isn't something that has to go so far into comic relief and the absurd. The story would have been even more powerful without the lingering idea that Bianca got a position on the town's school board. The scene where Lars and Bianca are accepted at a co-worker's party would have been enough to drive this point home.

It might seem like I'm nitpicking here, but this is the type of movie that has to pull off a tightrope walk to work. If you want to make a touching, humorous movie about a mentally unstable man working out his problems with the help of a delusional relationship with a plastic sex doll, it's going to be a delicate balancing act. While Ryan Gosling nails the uneasy intensity of Lars' journey and transformation from beginning to end, the rest of the cast of characters seem intent on making the journey as goofy as possible. While this disconnect may be in the script, I think you can chalk it up to first time director Craig Gillespie. Making sure everyone is in sync with each other is one of the first responsibilities of a director along with creating an even tone and making sure the lighting, the visual design and everything else matches that tone. In all these regards I think the movie fails. But hey, getting a great Gosling performance seems to come with a price and with Lars and the Real Girl you have better option to see him work than sitting through The United States of Leland.

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