I have to confess that when I heard that Lars and the Real Girl was about a man who falls in love with a blow-up sex doll, I prepared myself for a lot of cringe-worthy moments and groans of disgust. You see, I generally hate movies like this. Or, rather, what I thought this was.
I had every expectation that this film would tackle the plot in one of two ways: Either it would be in the vein of movies like Old School or National Lampoon (total slapstick comedy), or, even worse, a bunch of sex-hungry teenage boys making crude jokes and having awkward sexual encounters (à la Weird Science or American Pie). I mean, how else could you make a movie about a guy who falls in love with a blow-up sex doll? I couldn’t really like this movie, could I?
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong…so wrong, in fact, that I am almost (not quite, but almost) ashamed at myself for pre-judging this movie. As a journalist, I broke one of the cardinal rules of my trade. But my mistake was small compared to the mistake made by Hollywood for failing to give this independent film a full release and the marketing to go with it. The problem, I think, was that on the surface this film seems to be a pretty standard romantic comedy...more of the same, you know? But it’s not really a comedy at all, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s much more of a love story. And there is nothing typical about this film. In fact, its best quality is its originality.
When Lars, an introverted and emotionally disturbed young man, shows up with his new “girlfriend,” Bianca, you expect his family to waste no time in locking him up in the nut-house. But they don’t. They care about him. They want to help him. So they play along until they can figure things out. When it becomes obvious that Lars will insist on bringing Bianca with him into social situations, like church or parties, at the family’s request the entire town comes together to accept Bianca as part of their community. Some of the best parts of the movie are when we see how over time, as the townspeople “play along” with Lars’ delusions, Bianca truly does find her place. She is dressed up (more conservatively, of course), and given a “job” as window dressing at the local mall. She is brought to the local hospital to do “volunteer work,” visiting children in the cancer ward. But over time the townspeople stop just playing along. They become used to Bianca’s presence, and are even interested and intrigued by her, offering to cut her hair in a different style or talk about how envious they are of her figure. In one scene, a neighbor picks up Bianca for an employee party, leaving Lars at home alone. He wasn’t invited. Upon Bianca’s return the couple has a heated argument (one sided, of course) behind closed doors about how she is not spending enough time with Lars. These moments are the true comedy in the film. It is subtle and touching and, most importantly, believable.
Of course, you have to suspend reality a bit for this film…that Lars delusion of Bianca as a real woman could play out so long and so perfectly. But it is not too much of a leap, and that is a testament to the superb storytelling. The writers missed a thousand opportunities to insert the low-brow humor the plot suggests, and thank God they did. This movie is sweet, and funny, and touching, and something completely different than what you would expect. Lars and the Real Girl is a great little film, and is, in my opinion, a must see.
He Said: Guys, I’m talking to you now. This is a perfect date-night movie. It is not a “girl” movie in the least (no offense, Shawn), so you’re safe on that front. Of course, your girl may question a movie about a blow-up sex doll, but rest assured she’ll be pleasantly surprised upon watching it…and so will you.
SHE SAID: Thinking outside the box
Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.
~ David Foster Wallace
I'm big on movie titles - on the words meaning something or adding context to a movie. So I probably spent way too much time reflecting on why the title of this movie is not Lars and the Real Doll or Lars and the Fake Girl rather than Lars and the Real Girl. I never reached a conclusion, really, but I think it remains an important question.
It's actually a clever play on words, because you're not quite sure if the "real" girl is the fake one from www.realdoll.com or Margo (Kelli Garner), Lars's (Ryan Gosling) implied love interest at the end of the film.
Bianca, the plastic object of Lars's affection, is a life-size, 125-pound doll that seems to bring out the best in Lars (a reclusive, socially retarded young man) - and, eventually, the whole Wobegonish town. After repeated questions of girlfriends and sexual orientation from friends and family, Lars just designs his own woman online and has her shipped (who looks suspiciously like his sister-in-law to me). Bianca, half-Brazilian/half-Danish, was raised by nuns and is a missionary. While visiting Lars, she is "on sabbatical to experience the world."
But the charm of the movie is that the world experiences Bianca right back. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), the family doctor and a psychologist, suggests to his family and friends that they play along. Let the doll be as real to them as it is to Lars: "Bianca's in town for a reason," she adds.
Lars explains, "That's why God made her...to help people"- and everyone sees a bit of Bianca in themselves. One of my favorite scenes of the movie is when Lars wants to play Scrabble with Bianca one evening but she has charity work on her "calendar." The church lady tells Lars that he is just like her husband and that he can't be expecting Bianca to just sit around the house waiting for him to come home all day. She has needs too!
Bianca's in town for a reason, but she also dies for a reason. Lars begins to have feelings for a real "real girl" - and he can't cheat on Bianca. Just before she "dies," Lars and Bianca share their first and only kiss - adding to the irony of a man who orders a sex doll to dress her up and bring her to church on Sunday.
Whether you love the movie or not, it is full of big ideas that will definitely make you think - inside and outside of the box!
She Said: Watch it! I think it's an especially good date movie because it makes great fodder for conversational questions from "What is delusional?" to "What is love?" (After all, they are often purported to be one and the same.)
After reading each other's reviews, The Eskimo and Shawn always discuss the reviews (and the film, too, of course). Listen to the Lars and The Real Girl audio commentary here. (And find out which film The Eskimo picked to review next.)
And here's the Spongebob Squarepants "To Love a Patty" episode for The Eskimo (and anyone else I can convince to explore my comparison of Lars and the Real Girl with me!).