In Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays a shy loner who is henpecked by nagging family and friends determined to engage him. He reacts to their attempts to set him up on dates and hang out in familiar and realistic shy guy fashion. Then he buys a sex doll which he falls in love with and all at once we're transported to a world I could only recognize as the familiarly formulaic "quirky indie film." Of course it's in the Middle West (Ontario in real life), the last bastion of quirky, lovable, soft-headed townsfolk with hearts of gold and fresh-baked good intentions.
What I had hoped was going to be a semi-comic observation along the lines of Punch Drunk Love or Chuck & Buck in one contrived bit plunged straight into the territory of an SNL sketch-cum-movie or an Improv skit that goes on for way too long (i.e. over 3 seconds). OK, it's not as bad as those examples, mostly because of the casting and because you don't have Horatio Sanz cracking up at the hilarity of it all. Ryan Gosling goes a long way in making Lars a character we care about even while the script or direction provide almost no insight into what's going on in his head aside from contrived instances with a psychiatrist. We never know if he really thinks the doll is real; does he ever have moments of clarity? What made him change from a believable loner into a delusional cinematic joke? We never know much of anything that goes on inside. You won't laugh, you won't cry, even though it's calculated to make you do just that. Ultimately Lars is just an icon with funny hair, funny clothes, a funny name and a funny relationship with others a la Napoleon Dynamite. Here's hoping he doesn't similarly inspire a legion of "hipster" imitators or else I'm going to have to make a lot more calls to the Redneck Squad.
I get the feeling that director Craig Gillespie (who also made the critically-despised Mr. Woodcock) didn't keep us distant from Lars deliberately like Todd Haynes did in Safe with Julianne Moore. Lars is viewed as a curiosity from arms length through the eyes of a guy whose prescription for social heterogeneity seems to be getting the world's "weirdos" laid or, at the very least, some hugs.
There are a couple of shots of the sex doll that register on the outskirts of funny and disturbing, but for the most part Lars and the Real Girl is (like Waitress or Little Miss Sunshine) only about as quirky as a Halloween episode of Friends. Almost too edgy for an in-flight movie or your great grandmother. The story slowly flows along toward inevitable plot markers at molasses speed and then ends, gratefully, sort of abruptly.
Ngoc Nguyen in stripes
If you don't believe me, my fetching, go-to paragon of flawless taste, Ngoc Nguyen, espoused similar views. If you still need convincing if the film's mediocrity, check out these particularly rote hyperboles it inspired among some of the nation's blandest critics:
Joe Morgenstern of Wall Street Journal: "nothing short of a miracle"
Ann Hornaday for the Washington Post: "a small miracle"
Wesley Morris for the Boston Globe: "something miraculous has occurred"
There you have it. The film is pretty much an act of an all-powerful, all-knowing being.
Jesus H. Christ is reportedly "totally jealous" of Craig Gillespie's recent spate of miracles
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