Lars and the Real Girl
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NEW YORK (CNS) -- Once you hear the wildly improbable premise of this film, you might be tempted to give it a pass, but if you do, you'll be missing one of the year's most heartwarming and tender films, and an absolutely brilliant performance by star Ryan Gosling.
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"Lars and the Real Girl" (MGM/Sidney Kimmel) is the poignant story of the titular Lars (Gosling), an appealingly sweet but emotionally fragile man in an upper Midwestern town who, though he holds down an office job and functions capably, can literally not abide any form of physical connection.
He lives in the garage adjoining the house of his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), and sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer). Despite the latter's warm and insistent invitations that he join them for breakfast or dinner, Lars goes out of his way to avoid them at all costs.
At work, his office mates -- most especially, flirtatious Margo (Kelli Garner) -- try to make friendly overtures, but he keeps a polite though friendly distance.
One day, his cubicle partner shows him a porn site (nothing overtly pornographic is actually shown on-screen) where one can buy life-size female dolls. In short order, Lars orders one (very pointedly, not for sexual purposes), and he stuns Gus and Emily by presenting her as his girlfriend, Bianca, a former missionary raised by nuns, he tells them. Lars believes it's not proper to cohabitate with Bianca under the same roof, and prevails upon Gus (highly skeptical) and Emily to let her stay in their guest room.
On the pretext of checking out Bianca's health, the couple convinces Lars to bring the doll to the family physician, Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), who gently turns her focus on Lars in an empathetic, unthreatening manner. She learns that Lars can barely tolerate even the touch of a finger on his bare skin.
His mental dysfunction stems from a difficult childhood. Gus feels guilty that he left home so early, leaving Lars alone with their difficult widowed father. Dr. Dagmar informs them they should humor Lars in his delusion, which will continue as long as he "needs" it.
They reluctantly agree, and before long Lars' office mates, fellow churchgoers (Lutheran) and the townspeople accept "her" as human out of love and compassion for Lars. But their relationship with the doll eventually becomes as cathartic for them as it is for Lars, who with Bianca at his side, is able to open up to other people as never before.
Though it goes without saying that suspension of disbelief is essential, director Craig Gillespie, working from Nancy Oliver's delicate script, makes this improbable tale utterly believable. Besides Gosling's sterling work -- understated, nuanced and impeccable throughout -- the performances of Mortimer, Schneider, Clarkson, Garner and the rest are beautifully realized as well.
The themes of family, community, religion, forgiveness, redemption and a strong affirmation of human decency override those very few elements that might preclude younger teens, such as the very tame Internet reference when Gus -- in his exasperation -- cuts loose with a couple of profanities.
The film contains two nonexplicit images of a porn site, mild innuendo, discreet sexual references and brief profanity. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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