Lars (Ryan Gosling) doesn't wanna catch his brother and sister-in-law too off-guard, so he eases into it. Yes, he's met someone...a girl on the Internet. She doesn't
really speak much English. She's not able to walk, so when he makes the big introduction later, don't be too shocked when he's pushing a wheelchair. Bianca is also deeply religious, so she's going to have to stay in their guest bedroom, if that's alright. Okay, sure, Bianca isn't exactly a Best Case Scenario kind of a girl, but that's love, right? Gus (Paul Schneider) and his wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) are still thrilled that Lars has finally met someone. We're talking about a guy who's so painfully shy that when Margo (Kelli Garner), the cute new girl at the office, starts crushing on him, he awkwardly smiles and pretends not to hear. When Lars has to talk, he politely says just enough for whoever it is to move on and leave him alone. Heck, even the only relatives Lars has left have to tackle him so he'll show up at a family dinner. Looking at someone as isolated and lonely as Lars, a wheelchair-bound mail-order bride from the Eastern bloc or wherever sounds like a gift from Heaven.
|[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]|
Oh, but Lars is fuzzy on some of the finer points...y'know, like Bianca being a plastic sex doll.
Cut to a bunch of men in white coats chasing down Lars with an oversized butterfly net, right? Well, no. Doc Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) thinks this delusion is Lars' way of working through some deep-seated issues. Rather than have Lars chucked in the nuthouse, she suggests that everybody play along...pretend that Bianca is a living, breathing person and see how things shake out. It's a sleepy little town, everyone likes Lars a lot anyway, and -- wow! this is the most comfortable Lars has felt in his skin in forever -- so most of 'em are more than happy to lend a hand. Before too long, everyone takes to Bianca so much that she's propped up as the town's new social butterfly. The thing is that not only does Lars' delusion show no sign of fading, but now that the missus is so popular, there's ::gulp!:: trouble in paradise between him and Bianca...
I had a pretty clear picture in my head of what Lars and the Real Girl would turn out to be: a whimsical score plinked out on a toy piano, cartoonish and bug-eyed acting, a bright, candy-colored palette, and all around twee. I don't mean that in a bad way since I like movies like that, but still, I fully expected something frothy and aggressively precious. It's not. Lars and the Real Girl latches onto a gleefully
ridiculous premise and plays it completely straight. There's a real sincerity and resonance to its emotions. It doesn't milk cheap laughs out of pratfalls and pop culture references. Craig Gillespie has assembled a really strong cast, and every one of the folks on the bill gets the chance to act the hell out of a monologue. The fact that the colors are muted from the very first frame helps establish what kind of a movie Lars and the Real Girl is going to be. The emotional wallops it packs are earned. Ditto for the laughs. There's a real love and respect for these characters who aren't just there to be nudged around by the plot. The whole point is that Bianca is a mouthpiece for people to say what they can't otherwise, and the focus is rightly kept away from the love doll and towards the flesh-and-blood people who crowd around her. It's about empathy, not a rubber doll. Heck, breaking completely away from convention, there's no villain in the piece, there's no break-up-to-make-up...this is a really smart, really well-crafted drama-slash-comedy. I have nothing but the very nicest things to say about everyone in the cast, and I really want to dote on the too-adorable-for-words Kelli Garner, but I've gotta aim the biggest thumbs-up toward Ryan Gosling. It's not easy to take a character this detached and socially awkward and keep him likeable, but Gosling completely nails it.
|[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]|
I strolled in expecting to be knocked over by a wave of indie quirk, and I walked away with a movie that's really intelligent and surprisingly affecting. Bianca may not be real, but the emotions and sincerity here sure are. Lars and the Real Girl had been on my list of Things to Watch for a few years now, and I was very pleasantly surprised when I clued in that it was hitting Blu-ray. Unfortunately, it turns out that this is a case of Great Movie; Lousy Blu-ray Disc. I'd have cheerfully given a much higher rating to a disc that deserves it, and I'll get into all that in a bit, but as it is, I'll just have to settle for a plain-jane Recommended.
Lars and the Real Girl is priced like a bargain bin title, and...well, it kinda looks the part too. Right off the bat, detail tends to be disappointingly muddy and fuzzy. The texture of the film grain isn't nearly as crisp or well-defined as I'd expect out of a movie lensed just three years and change ago either. Even the text in the opening and closing titles is unusually soft. Lars and the Real Girl has a harshly digital look to it as well, as if it's compensating for the overall softness by heaping on some really artificial-looking sharpening filters. This looks like something I would've caught on HBO-HD in 2004 or something, not a shiny new Blu-ray disc of a movie that hit theaters just a few short years ago. Well below average.
As musty and dated as this transfer looks, at least Fox and MGM didn't skimp on the bitrate. The AVC encode for Lars and the Real Girl spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and the image is very faintly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
The 24-bit, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that Lars and the Real Girl is lugging around is low-key but effective enough. We're not talking about a movie with bullets whizzing around or eighty megaton explosions, after all. The mix is primarily anchored front and center, although the surrounds are used to flesh out a pretty solid sense of atmosphere: phones ringing in the office, background chatter at a house party...that sort of thing. The score by David Torn sounds rich and full-bodied, also seizing hold of the rear channels to reasonably strong effect. Lars and the Real Girl's dialogue is naturally the focal point of the mix and comes through without any hiccups. Although I doubt this lossless track makes for much of a night-and-day difference over the DVD, the sound design here complements the tone of Lars and the Real Girl well enough, and there really aren't any flaws for me to gripe about.
Two dubs have been piled on here as well: a lossy DTS 5.1 track in German and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in Spanish. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH), Spanish, and German.
Not much. The extras clock in at 19 minutes all told, and what little is here tends to be pretty lightweight.
- Deleted Scene (1 min.; SD): Lars and Bianca
settle in for a quick bath together. Minus the introductory text by Jim Gillespie and the closing copyright notice, the scene runs around 40 seconds and consists of a single syllable of dialogue. Nothing that's gonna reshape the way you look at the movie or anything.
|[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]|
- The Real Story of Lars and the Real Girl (10 min.; SD): "The Real Story..." is more of a cheerleading session than anything else, pretty much just shouting about how awesome everyone and everything has been during production. Shaping the overall tone of the movie, the concept of treating mental illness with compassion and affection, the physical construction of Bianca, everyone's reactions when they first thumbed through the script, Ryan Gosling's way-Method shacking up in the garage with a RealDoll...some of that's kind of interesting, but it's really cursory. It's meant more for people who haven't seen the movie rather than those of us that have.
- A Real Leading Lady (6 min.; SD): This quippy, goofy featurette pulls back the curtain on filming a flick with a diva like Bianca the RealDoll.
- Trailer (2 min.): Last up is a theatrical trailer. It's encoded in high-def, but it looks more like an upconvert from standard definition to my eyes. Either way, don't expect to be bowled over.
The Final Word
I really do love Lars and the Real Girl: the movie piles together an almost absurdly talented cast, it packs a lot more of an emotional wallop than I waltzed in expecting, and the oddball premise -- that's played completely straight! -- is right up my alley. Despite all that, this isn't the easiest Blu-ray disc to recommend with so few worthwhile extras and fairly lousy high-def visuals. Even with so many stores online carrying Lars and the Real Girl for all of fifteen bucks, that still seems too high for what MGM is actually delivering here. Still Recommended, but I'd Netflix it or wait for the price to drop by half.