Capra-corn with a blow-up doll, Lars and the Real Girl manages to turn a dubious high concept (delusional man believes a blow-up doll is his live girlfriend) into an entertaining fable about the phenomenon of socially crippled singles. Though you'd never know it from Mr. Woodcock, director Craig Gillespie is capable of deft deadpan (see also Showtime's The United States of Tara), and the script by Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under, True Blood) finds warmth and gentle humor in wishful small-town community.
The ever-adventurous Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine) plays Lars Lindstrom, a quiet young man struggling to hide and deny the emotional scars of his childhood. Lars lives in the converted garage of his childhood home, now occupied by his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer). Some of the script's most astute dynamics come among these three wheels before the arrival (in a crate) of Lars' girlfriend: having accepted defeat, Gus wishes Karin would do the same, but refusing to accept that Lars wants to be left alone, she literally tackles him until she gets an affirmative commitment to her dinner invitation. Soon after that painfully awkward dinner, Lars follows an impulse to buy a "RealDoll" (a genuine brand name given what must be the strangest product placement ever). He introduces the Angelina Jolie lookalike as Bianca, an innocent Brazilian-Danish paraplegic missionary raised by nuns—but incongruously outfitted like a streetwalker.
Once she's set up with some of Karin's clothes, Bianca begins to fit into Lars' Wisconsin town better than he ever did, which he finds increasingly disconcerting. It's a measure of the townspeople's love for Lars, but also seemingly the women's need to project their sensibility onto this blank-slate female (and, in the process, scold Lars for not happily allowing Bianca her independence). Meanwhile, the town's all-purpose doctor Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) becomes an unwitting Lars' psychiatrist; while a sick Bianca takes treatment, Bianca gently prods him through a series of exploratory sessions. As the doctor explains to Gus and Karin, "Mental illness isn't always just an illness. It can be a communication; it can be a way to work something out." As such, Bianca will be around as long as Lars still needs her to play her role as a coping mechanism.
That Lars and the Real Girl works as well as it does owes partly to the astute tonal treatment by Oliver and Gillespie and partly to a crack cast. Gosling leads the cast with his able balances of the comedic and dramatic elements of the story, and Schneider does terrifically subtle work in both categories. Clarkson makes an ideal heroic psychiatrist to put alongside Howard Da Silva (David and Lisa), Judd Hirsch (Ordinary People), Barbara Streisand (The Prince of Tides) and Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting), and Mortimer and Garner heartbreakingly radiate understanding and saintly patience. Sweet, sad and funny, Lars and the Real Girl adds a quirky entry to the genre of "psychology saves" pictures.
MGM hasn't sunk much effort into the Blu-ray debut of Lars and the Real Girl, which features a distinctly lackluster transfer and a handful of recycled bonus features. Only the most die-hard of the film's fans would upgrade from the DVD, but perhaps some new adopters will snap up the film for the first time and not feel cheated. The image looks appropriately dull—since the colors are intentionally muted, they're probably on the mark here (though contrast is probably limper than necessary). The problem is in the thorough edge enhancement and nevertheless unimpressive detail, adding up to an evidently dusty transfer. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound isn't problematic, though it's undistinguished given the (understandably) very limited use of rear channels. The A/V does improve on its standard def equivalent, just not substantially enough to justify anyone tossing their DVD and ponying up again.
"The Real Story of Lars and the Real Girl" (10:11, SD) packs a fair amount into ten minutes, including some set footage and interview clips with director Craig Gillespie, screenwriter Nancy Oliver, Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner and Patricia Clarkson.
In "A Real Leading Lady" (5:55, SD), the cast and crew talk about their blow-up colleague.
Rounding out the disc are "Deleted Scene - Bathtub" (:54, SD) and the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:24, HD).
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