- Ah, the classic carnation. And a wise choice when a more thorny selection might cause your beloved to pop.
*Lars and the Real Girl (PG-13)
Kimball's Twin Peak
In the tricky world of independent cinema, the classic saying can be slightly modified: Never judge a movie by its trailer.
Take, for instance, the sweet fable of Lars and the Real Girl. It's debatable as to whether audiences are interested in a mature, adult film with a ridiculous, almost juvenile premise about a man who falls in love with a life-size, anatomically correct silicone doll. The fact that its trailer doesn't do it a lick of justice only adds to this debate. But the truth is that Lars and the Real Girl is one of the year's most pleasant surprises.
Director Craig Gillespie's darkly comic sophomore effort follows an outsider named Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) who doesn't talk much and hates being touched. He internalizes his emotions, careful not to show others what he's really thinking or feeling. It's impossible to hide the toll this takes on his personality, though the film is careful not to make any judgments about people who do engage in this sort of anti-social behavior.
Lars lives alone in a cozy garage behind his brother and sister-in-law's house, and despite their repeated attempts to reach out to him, he seems to prefer his self-imposed loneliness. Lars has successfully insulated himself from his family and co-workers, including the doe-eyed Margo (Kelli Garner) who sets her gaze upon him from a measured distance.
With an instinctual need to love and be loved in return, Lars decides to put an end to emotional frustration when he orders Bianca, a life-size doll, off the Internet. The change in Lars' temperament is immediate, as the outlet provides him an ear to voice his innermost thoughts and feelings.
That doesn't stop his skeptical brother Gus (Paul Schneider) from thinking he's crazy.
Gus' moralistic wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer), supports Lars' coming-out of sorts, but agrees that his development would best be served by weekly visits to the family shrink (Patricia Clarkson), whose diagnosis is that Lars will outgrow the behavior, so long as the whole town indulges his delusion.
Though Gosling's moving performance as Lars marks a complete 180 from his Oscar-nominated turn in Half Nelson, both characters are addicts. This time, instead of drugs, Gosling's character is addicted to his privacy. He's scared to death of opening up and sharing himself with others.
Gosling fearlessly commits himself to the odd but lovable character nervous tics, stammering speech and all and his formidable presence inspires sympathy.
The material is no doubt challenging, and some viewers may feel unable to suspend their disbelief and follow Lars on his somewhat spiritual journey. But they'd be wise not to tune out former Six Feet Under writer Nancy Oliver's carefully balanced screenplay, which, through depictions of edgy angst and small-town wholesomeness, provides one of the most charming comic premises in some time.
The beauty of the film is how we grow closer to Bianca as Lars does, rallying behind their "relationship" and, like the rest of the town, rooting for him to find true love with Margo. If the mark of good writing is inviting the audience to participate in the story, Lars and the Real Girl succeeds in making the viewer feel like part of the community.