The Austin Chronicle

Lars and the Real Girl

Rated PG-13, 106 min. Directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Patricia Clarkson, Kelli Garner.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 26, 2007

It takes a village, I've heard it said. It takes a village not only to raise a child but also, in this case, to aid the delusional and help restore good mental health. Or so Lars and the Real Girl would have us believe. This movie's premise is high concept and would be easy to dismiss were the film not so flawlessly executed. The screenplay by Nancy Oliver, who penned many scripts for HBO's Six Feet Under, carries over some of that show's tonal implausibilities, which nevertheless succeed here despite the odds. Gosling (Half Nelson, The Notebook) again displays his exacting commitment to characterization as Lars, a socially stunted young man who lives in a small Minnesota town. He resides in the garage apartment of his deceased father's property, while his brother (Schneider) and sister-in-law (Mortimer) occupy the main house. Painfully reticent, Lars shocks his family and community when, out of the blue, he introduces them to the wheelchair-bound Bianca, a lifelike sex doll with whom he forges a chaste romantic relationship. Despite opportunities galore for smutty gags, Lars and the Real Girl never ventures down this path, staying on its best behavior in matters of courtship and film ratings. (It's PG-13.) At the (admittedly questionable) advice of the town doctor (Clarkson), Lars' family and community are advised to accept Bianca as a real girl and support Lars in his delusion so that he may one day outgrow it. There's a daffiness to the townspeople's willing acceptance of this plan, but director Gillespie and the cast capture just the right tone of seamless improbability. Gillespie, whose botched debut film was the tone-deaf Mr. Woodcock, manages to get it right this time and prevent Lars from becoming another one-joke comedy. The pitch-perfect delivery of this entire cast cannot be overstated, as their performances keep the film from straying into absurd or sickly sweet dimensions. In a sense, Lars and the Real Girl is also reminiscent of the illusion of communal decency that Frank Capra so ably created in his films throughout his career. That the community is willing to support Lars in his delusion is perhaps no more unbelievable than the willingness of Capra's communities to send Mr. Smith to Washington or bail out George Bailey with their own dough when the bank goes bankrupt. The eras have changed, but our American ideals have survived pretty much intact. It still takes a village.

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