“Lars and the Real Girl” is my favorite film of the year so far. Written by Nancy Oliver (who also penned several episodes of Six Feet Under) and directed by Craig Gillespie (Mr. Woodcock), Lars is a complete surprise.
Lars (Ryan Gosling) moves back home but lives in the garage while his brother and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) live in the family house. Lars, dreadfully shy, insists on living alone. Their father has died, and we discover that their mother died when giving birth to Lars.
Lars has a job and the other worker in his cubical finds a site on the internet that sells anatomically correct sex-dolls. Lo and behold, Lars orders one – but not for the reasons his co-worker might have. A big box arrives for Lars. He then presents himself at his brother’s door and says a female friend has come to visit, she doesn’t speak much English, and she’s in a wheelchair. Lars is a church-goer so he knows it would be improper for Bianca to stay with him and he asks if she can stay in the guest room. Karin, his sister-in-law, goes along with his delusion; his brother struggles with it – to say the least.
Patricia Clarkson plays the town doctor who is also a psychologist. Her care for Bianca/Lars is understated and moving.
This amazing little film is about how a family and a community gathers around a fragile man as he integrates the dimensions of his life and becomes a man. The scene where he follows his brother into the basement, where his brother is doing the laundry because his pregnant wife needs help, and asks: “When did you know you became a man?” is wonderful. It’s not about sex, it’s when “You stop jerking other people around, you take responsibility for those you care about” and so on. And there he is, doing the laundry.
This film is also about the role of play in child – and human – development. It’s about empathy, caring, the church community, the community at large, and their caring for the weakest among them, throughout a long, cold winter.
Ryan Gospling is amazing as the frightened Lars; Paul Schnieder as the brother is excellent and Emily Mortimer sees what others don’t – at first – and shows us all what caring about someone unconditionally means.
And did I mention the good humor?
The film also shows what a church community can really be for people – a safe place where love takes root and grows in hearts and action.
I loved the way the audience responded to the film; the innocence of the laughter reflected the innocence of the film itself.
I told a friend that I would love to see a film about a woman who grows because of the love of the community. My friend said, yes, but the women in the film have strong roles – as helpers, I replied. As usual. A fine film with a woman as the example of universal human experience is still to be made, I think. (Gender roles is a good media literacy angle for looking at this film.)