John Podhoretz reviews Lars and the Real Girl, “An uncharming tale of a troubled young man and his inflatable doll”:
In the comic classic Harvey (1950), James Stewart played a drunken fellow who claims his best friend is a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit, and is indulged in his fantasy by his frustrated sister. In 1986’s terrifying River’s Edge, Dennis Hopper played a psychotic drug dealer living in a trailer with a blow-up sex doll who helps a group of teenage kids cover up the drug-related death of a friend. In 2007, Ryan Gosling chose to follow up his Best Actor Oscar nomination last year–he was the youngest nominee in the category in the award’s 80-year history–with the lead role in a movie that combines all the hilarity of River’s Edge and all the horror of Harvey.
The movie is called Lars and the Real Girl. It’s about a sweet, vacant, and withdrawn 27-year-old who begins squiring a very expensive and realistic-looking sex doll around the small town where he’s lived all his life. He says the doll is his girlfriend, that her name is Bianca, that she is the very religious Brazilian daughter of missionary parents, and that, because of her religious convictions, he and his new girlfriend cannot share quarters. Lars asks his brother Gus and sister-in-law Karin to put Bianca up. If anyone tells Lars that Bianca is made of plastic, he simply doesn’t hear the remark.
Gus and Karin, who is pregnant, take Lars to the local doctor, who also has a degree in psychology. The doctor talks to Lars and then informs his family that Lars is suffering from a “delusion”–a diagnosis that evidently required an advanced degree. And said doctor, displaying what screenwriter Nancy Oliver and director Craig Gillespie clearly believe is great wisdom, tells Lars’s family to go along with it until there’s a way of determining the cause of Lars’s delusion. Eventually, everybody in town–an uncommonly glum and grim sort of place that could use a dash of fantasy–goes along with it, too.
Someone wrote Lars and the Real Girl. Someone directed it. Someone named Sidney Kimmel–a clothing manufacturer who has decided to become a motion-picture producer–put up the money to make it. Some firm has chosen to distribute it. And it has Ryan Gosling, who showed in The Notebook that he has the chops to be an old-fashioned romantic leading man of the sort Hollywood hasn’t seen since the 1970s.
What were they thinking? What were they drinking/smoking? It would be a relief to know that Lars and the Real Girl was actually made because someone was using the production to run a drug-smuggling operation. At least that would offer a rational explanation for the existence of this positively gobstopping piece of work.
Gee, I skipped this movie once already 20 years ago. Time to miss it again.