While it is more than fair to say that Ryan Gosling is a versatile actor, it would be hard to believe that Gosling could portray awkward so well. This is not to disregard his ability, but most people have ever seen him as a leading man, suave, sophisticated, and undoubtedly sexy. While The Notebook and Crazy, Stupid Love gave him the romantic lead, The Ides of March gave him the suave-Cary Grant-esque quality, and Drive made him an existential fighter, these roles allowed him to be the object of much swooning from the female sex (and some males, one In particular whom I know personally, ahem). Lars and the Real Girl is, in many ways, a revelation, both in terms of how people will see Gosling as an actor and in terms of its subject matter within filmmaking. Gosling plays awkward, socially inept, and he does so with pathos. Gosling brings Lars, and Bianca, to real life.
When Lars is fatigued of his social ineptitude and his insecurities stunting his ability to interact with nearly anyone, he tries to solve his predicament by deciding that it may be time for him to finally find a partner, someone with whom he can relate and be emotionally intimate with. Along comes Bianca, who, while personable, kind, and pleasant, just so happens to be a sex doll. She even comes with her own back story! While his brother and sister-in-law are initially wary of Lars’ delusion, his kind sister-in-law decides that, if this is one way that Lars will finally branch out to people, it may not be a problem. And surprisingly, the rest of the small town community is quick to follow.
Lars and the Real Girl, probably unintentionally, is the best argument for tolerance and acceptance. Slowly but surely, Bianca finds her place in the community and begins to help everyone out. It starts out as a subtle gesture of acceptance, but essentially becomes more than that, and meaning more to themselves than they could imagine. Without overstepping its boundaries and jarring the audience with some oft trodden message about acceptance (something that has been advertised ad museum these days), the film makes all of its characters likable and sympathetic, easer to root for, easier to love, and then easier to buy in to what it may be saying. This is greatly aided by the tremendous acting from the cast, the small characters bringing the small town to life. But the film would be nothing without the man who brings Bianca herself to life, making Bianca just as real of a character as everyone else. What is also a relief is that it, again, is not a PSA for anti-bullying. Thus, there is no obligatory “Lars gets bullied by town hoodlums”, something I worried about constantly as I watched the film. To my relief, there was no such scene. The town loves Lars so much, they were willing to buy into it without that usual tension.
Though it may be strange at first seeing Ryan Gosling, who is so devilish in Drive, romantic in The Notebook (which I actually abhor), and quick witted in Crazy, Stupid Love, lean over and emulate real emotional intimacy with a life sized doll, this subtle, controlled performance becomes so real that it brings one to tears by the end. When Bianca comes into Lars’ life, there is new life and confidence to Lars. It is an exceptional performance, almost electric in its emotionality. With all the confident awkwardness that Gosling is able to portray when he is with Bianca, there are beautiful and subtle moments of ambiguity. These fleeting moments of ambiguity, often when Lars looks down at the ground, often seem as Lars is trying to make himself believe that Bianca is real. He knows he wants her to be real wants to be able to channel his emotions like a “normal” person, but it seems that he sometimes struggles. He needs so much to manifest these feelings with a “person” he is comfortable with, and Bianca seems to be the person he wants focus on. His performance is so nuanced and moving, his interactions with Bianca so real, that he brings Bianca to life for the audience. We care so much about Lars that there are moments when we want to fight for him, hope for him.
Emily Mortimer plays Lars’ sister-in-law with just as much realness. Karen is the sympathetic communal catalyst in terms of getting people to play along with Lars’ delusions. Her honesty, though, is refreshing and sweet. She never seems like she is being demeaning or condescending to Lars, but honestly looking out for him, which is more than Lars’ own brother seems to be doing. Paul Schneider’s Gus, the older brother, reveals certain details about their past which may or may not be a factor into Lars’ insecurities and delusions. Patricia Clarkson is elegant as the local doctor who, little by little, tries to weasel out details from Lars. But Lars knows better than to immediately trust her.
The film is startlingly honest about relationships and the effect they have on other people and the acceptance that it takes to welcome someone into your life. While it may not be the mouthpiece to any political commentary, the film is so subtle and gentle, that it could be just that and no one would notice consciously. There is humor in its pathos as well, making the film both a tender and funny experience. There are few films that can have such power over the viewer where it allows them to buy completely into an unrealistic situation and see it as ordinary and nothing less than real. By the end of the film, I may or may not have been in tears. Though, the film gives both Lars and the viewer a sense of closure that, again, seems logical and warranted. Gosling’s portrayal is brilliantly realistic and nuanced and he, along with director Craig Gillespie and writer Nancy Oliver, bring Lars and Bianca to life. Because, at the heart of the film, it manages to say that a person is a person, no matter how much plastic is in their skin or how they manifest their feelings and quirks. And, in the case of Bianca, a woman is a woman.