Slowly but surely, I’m checking off those “need to see it, haven’t seen it yet, stop bothering me about it” movies. This was definitely one of them, and boy, am I glad I finally acquiesced. What a truly lovely film.
Oddly, my least favorite part of this movie is Ryan Gosling, and I still like him very much in it. He has a way of smirking even in serious scenes that makes me want to smack him a little, but save for that characteristic, his portrayal of Lars is so sensitive and understated. He doesn’t have to try too hard to be the weird guy because he kind of is the weird guy. He’s never been one to be a conventional romantic lead, and I’m not even sure I’d be able to buy him as a confident, brash man. Please let me know if he’s ever been That Guy in a movie; I’ve only seen The Notebook and Blue Valentine and Drive.
Lars and the Real Girl easily could have been cynical about mental illness, or snarky about small towns, or overly saccharine about family. It was absolutely none of those things. It was elegant, maybe a little convenient at times, plot-wise, but still very believable. Lars, a true loner with a diversion to physically touching people and a secret desire to be touched emotionally by the right person, so it makes sense for him to fabricate this person and project everything he wants and needs onto her.
It was so genuinely fun to watch him experience this relationship, and to watch the people in his life experience it with him. His brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) provide sweet, complex reactions to the whole situation; they begin with the normal skepticism and fear, and then gradually accept the doll, Bianca, into their lives, with guidance from Dr. Bergman (Patricia Clarkson). They make it safe for Lars to go through what he needs to go through, and keep it at just the right level of “big deal.” It’s not any more magnified or dramatic than it needs to be, particularly because the small Minnesota town in which they live probably doesn’t make anything dramatic. Margo (Kelli Garner) is my favorite character, because she sees right past Lars’ inability to love real people and knows, deep down, that he’s capable of it. She doesn’t crowd him, she doesn’t get too down about the unrequitedness of their relationship, and she doesn’t completely come off as desperate.
Nancy Oliver’s screenplay is so thoughtful and economic, and Craig Gillespie’s directing is beautiful and careful, without veering too much into Wes Anderson territory. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but… it’s been done. By Wes.) Gillespie really had the chance to, particularly with the hint-of-twee aesthetic in this film, but since the characters all wear patterned wool sweaters and tights because they’re in cold weather, and not because they are making a quirky fashion choice, practicality wins out, and so the aesthetic blends well into the setting. It’s easier to appreciate the characters when their clothes and their houses are exactly what you’d expect them to wear and where you’d expect them to live. I haven’t said this in a long time: This is one of my favorite movies.