The Ides of March

A Woman is a Woman: Lars and the Real Girl

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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.

Grade: A

“Et Tu, Gosling?”: Review for The Ides of March

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It seems that politics, more than any other subject, is absolute fodder for filmmakers who want to critique culture or create some sort of relevant commentary. From The Manchurian Candidate to The Great Dictator to Wag the Dog, directors not only love to look at the corrupt state of government by imbuing its characters with absurd stereotypes but they also love to expose the cunning wit that politicians have. They’re smooth talkers and they’re supposed to be. Just take a look at the iconic speech that Chaplin gives at the end of The Great Dictator, lampooning Hitler a couple years before World War II had actually begun.

George Clooney joins the band of merry satirists in a darker fashion, trying to create and emulate suspense more along the lines of The Manchurian Candidate, and, to some extent, Coppola’s The Conversation. Playing a governor and almost presidential candidate just prior to a Democratic Primary in Ohio, Clooney, who directed and co-wrote The Ides of March, isn’t even at the front line of the film. It’s Ryan Gosling, the debonair, smart, young, and very qualified campaign advisor Stephen Meyers, working separate but next to Mike Morris’ (Clooney) official campaign manager Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).

The competition between Mike Morris and Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell) is close and tense, and throughout the film, you’re never quite sure who’s leading. Logistically, it only matters insofar that we know that Morris is a nice guy, just like Clooney, and we root for him initially. We want him to win, just like Clooney, were he to run for President. He’s a swell, logical guy.

Gosling’s Stephen is just as swell, but he’s harder on the outside and more ambiguous. He makes the statement that, despite whatever the statistics of Morris’ campaign, he will do what he does if he believes in it, not merely to win, in comparison to Zara. We can thus assume that, regardless of how many campaigns he’s actually been a part of, he’s rather naïve. He’s slightly disillusioned about Marisa Tomei’s New York Times correspondent Ida and whether or not she’s an actual “friend”. To what extent can he trust her is something that pops up throughout the film every so often. He plays the character well, with finesse, like he has with his previous roles in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Drive. He uses that same charm, but he knows, and we know, that it’s not the same character.

The point of this morality play, which is based on co-screenwriter Beau Willimon’s Farragut North, is to observe the moral ambiguity in politics. The idea is nothing new. Even the aspect of the character study is not new. Maybe that’s the problem with the film. It’s not new or fresh, despite the very contemporary setting and the feeling that Barack Obama is watching behind you and will resent you if you don’t like it. Moral ambiguity is usually a key point in political thrillers. What one candidate will do or not do to win or get the advantage is the drama, and here it plays very predictably. The center though, is not the candidate himself, but the advisor.

Meyers, while doggedly “married” to the campaign makes the dangerous mistake of acting on a phone call from the opposing team and visiting the opposing side’s own campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). From there, you have your drama. To what extent is Stephen Meyers still that honest, likable, charming guy; the one who can easily bed the sexy intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) and still be seen as the cool guy on campus. But his weakness is ambition. His ambition is his downfall, as, typically, he’s not as honest as he presents himself. It’s his ambition that propels him to see Giamatti, just to see if they can pay better, if the payoff allows for more power.

Its direction is fine, but the dialogue is, thankfully, interesting. If anything, it does make one wonder why the screenwriters and playwrights who pen these contemplative and methodical works don’t run for office themselves. They seem to have a good grip on what’s going on and can articulate the solutions well enough to sound convincing coming from the mouth of an actor playing a candidate. What the characters say, primarily the political ones spark the ongoing debate within the audience’s mind about the honesty of politics or lack thereof.

The title is reminiscent of those tragic Greek plays, but most reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The voting day for the Democratic Primary is, you guessed it March 15th, otherwise known as the Ides of March, the same day that Caesar was so iconically betrayed and murdered by Brutus and 60 other co-conspirators. Metaphorically, Meyers is, of course, Brutus with Morris as Caesar. However, perhaps to the disappointment of Clooney, it never seems as tragic as the play. It’s a bummer, somewhat of an accident on Meyers’ part, but it’s not tragic.

The screenplay is strong, but this is one of the few films that I would have preferred seeing on the stage. The characters are far more important and the constant switch in setting, as contemporary and “relevant” as they seem is actually distracting. It’s trying to be directed more like a film than like a stage play, but there’s no balance between the transition from one medium to the other. The politics are interesting, but the moral ambiguity of its characters is less interesting than you would think, even with Clooney at the head. You walk out with your mental ballot only being half punched through.

Grade: B-