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Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 4/15/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/14/2008

In our fast-paced world, where entertainment news is more readily available than ever before, it's hard for a movie, especially a small, independent film, to get its idea across in advertising. There are still plenty of people out there who won't go near a film unless they have clear idea what it's about and some movies don't get the luxury of fully explaining themselves. Take Lars and the Real Girl for example. I only knew it as the "Ryan Gosling and sex doll movie" and I'm sure that I'm not alone in that. However, the movie is much more than that and I hope that viewers will take the opportunity to learn about this wonderful little movie.

Gosling stars in Lars and the Real Girl as Lars Lindstrom, a quiet and shy young man. He and his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), have inherited their father's house, but instead of living with Gus and his wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer), in the house, Lars has opted to live in the garage by himself. Karin is often worried about Lars and she forces him to have dinner in the house with Gus and herself. At work, Lars keeps to himself and shuns the advances of Margo (Kelli Garner), who is clearly attracted to him.

One day, Lars' cubicle-mate Kurt (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) shows Lars a website where one can purchase an anatomically correct female "doll". Lars seems to show no interest in this, but six weeks later, a large package arrives for him, and he introduces Gus and Karin to "Bianca". Lars treats Bianca as if she were real and he explains to the bewildered Gus and Karin that he met Bianca on-line (that much is technically true) and that she has come to live with him. She has an illness which requires her to be confined to a wheelchair and due to her religious beliefs, she has requested to live in the house. Of course, Gus and Karin don't know what to make of this, so they take Bianca to see Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), their family doctor who is also a psychologist. While "examining" Bianca, she talks to Lars and ascertains that he has created this persona for some reason and that everyone should go along with it. So, the entire town soon learns about Bianca and they play along. But, what about Lars? What is his agenda and does he truly believe that Bianca is real?

While watching Lars and the Real Girl, I totally forgot that the film had been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. (And compared to the competition, it should have won.) However, in retrospect, this doesn't surprise me at all, as this film has one of the most original and creative stories that I've seen in years.

The film's central idea, that Lars acts as if a doll is a real person, is somewhat original in and of itself. But, it's the direction that the movie takes this central premise which makes Lars and the Real Girl so unique. I don't want to give too much away here, but the movie works by constantly defying and denying our expectations. At the outset, you are going to think that you've got the film figured out, as Lars brings home a sex doll and begins to treat it as a real person. It's quite evident that Lars is hopelessly insane and those around him have no idea how to handle the situation. However, from there, the movie takes many unexpected turns. These aren't plot twists -- no, this is Nancy Oliver's script avoiding the predictable. The movie could have become quite raunchy, quite silly, or quite sad. (I truly expected some very broad humor to arrive, but it never does.) Instead, the story keep turning inward, as it emphasizes the fact that this movie is about real people who have been thrust into a bizarre situation. At times, the focus of the film shifts away from Lars completely, as we see how the townspeople are dealing with Bianca.

This great script is bolstered by some fine acting. I can't say if Ryan Gosling went "method" for this role, but he certainly creates a believable character in Lars. He has put on a bit of weight and with his moustache, he looks like a cross between Sean Penn and Mr. Bentley from The Jeffersons. The great thing about Gosling's performance is that he makes Lars completely inscrutable, and we never know exactly what he's thinking. This performance is matched by that of Paul Schneider as Gus. We truly feel Gus' pain as he watches his brother go through some very dramatic changes. He goes through several stages, and in a nice change of pace, he's willing to let his guard down. Kelli Garner brings energy to the film as the spunky Margo, who, for some reason, is attracted to Lars.

I never like pigeonholing movies, and I would be hard-pressed to pick a genre for Lars and the Real Girl. On the whole, I would have to say that the film is a drama, as it explores the life of a young man who is going through a very rough period in his life. However, the movie has some comedic moments and there is one line which is laugh-out-loud funny. The important thing here is to give the movie a chance. The premise sounds freaky, and the first act presents the viewer with some very uncomfortable scenes (although, there is no nudity or sexuality here). But, stick with Lars and the Real Girl and you'll find a movie with an incredible amount of heart which explores the extremes which people will endure to get what they want.

Lars and the Real Girl tries to be a real person on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer has yielded an image which is quite sharp and clear. The movie takes place somewhere very cold, but the snow-covered landscapes never show any distracting grain, nor are there nay defects from the source material. The colors look good, although they are somewhat muted at times. Also, the image looks a tad dark in some shots. The image does show some pixellation at times, but this could be the result of the special screener used for the review. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which supplies clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are fine and there's some minor surround effects in some scenes, such as the bowling scene. However, this is a quiet drama, so there's no spectacular audio here.

The Lars and the Real Girl DVD contains only a few extras. The DVD contains one DELETED SCENE which runs about 1 minute, and really doesn't amount to much. It contains a text introduction from Director Craig Gillespie. "The Real Story of Lars and the Real Girl" (10 minutes) DOES NOT shed light on any sort of real-life basis for the movie, but instead is a making-of featurette which offers comments from the cast and crew. We learn a little bit about the origin of the story and we hear a great deal of discussion of how the film's odd and delicate subject matter was handled. "A Real Leading Lady" (6 minutes) examines how Bianca was treated on set and contains some funny comments from the cast and crew discussing Bianca's "behavior". The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film, which is letterboxed at 1.78:1.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long