Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) is a shy young man with furious social disorders. While his family (including Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer) attempts to get Lars to open up, nothing seems to work. One day, Lars announces that he's found a girlfriend, leading to much excitement and anticipation around his small town. Turns out, the new love interest is a rubber sex doll, and Lars is convinced she's real. When a compassionate doctor (Patricia Clarkson) suggests the town allow Lars time to work out his fantasy, the community complies, soon falling in love with the doll and the comfort she brings to Lars.
"Lars" is a delicate film, double-dutching between outrageous comedy and earnest sentiment to a dizzying degree; I was at a complete loss how to react to this fractured fairy tale. I guess sweetness seems to be its main export, if you don't stare at the "sex doll" part of the synopsis. Director Craig Gillespie ("Mr. Woodcock," or at least parts of it) treads very cautiously with this material, inching the plot forward, afraid to lose his audience if the stranger edges of the film start to become focal points; it's a halfway successful directorial job.
"Lars" manages to hit a contented rhythm spreading around eccentricity with small-town care. There's nothing untoward with Lars and his interaction with the sex doll. The broken man uses "Bianca" as a crutch to get himself back into the whitewater rapids of humanity, and the concept of the film is a winner. Gillespie directly confronts Lars's anxiety with his fellow man, carefully separating the cutesy, sitcom jokes (Bianca showing up at the dinner table or at a party) with darker, diseased tones to Lars's infirmity. The psychological leaps are easy to make.
What's harder to digest is Ryan Gosling. Once again, Gosling forgoes an innovative, wide-open take on a character for trite insular rumbling, and his choice is all wrong. The supporting cast members are all aces in subtle, empathetic turns, especially Schneider as the guilt-wracked older brother and Kelli Garner as Lars's sugary secret admirer. Extras points are handed to the cast for appearing with little to no makeup, thus furthering Gillespie's questionable evocation of Midwestern snowbound isolation.
But Gosling? He's a flannelled laundry pile with a porn star moustache, overdosing on uncut gravitas to such a foolish degree he takes himself right out of the movie's fantastical ambiance. He twitches and blinks where everyone else in the film is trying to build something. Gosling's lazy, nauseating dependence on method mope robs "Lars" of the life it's straining to maintain, not to mention his clouded delivery fusses with emotional dials that are never able to be tuned correctly. "Lars" needed an actor of unusual poise and ease with oddity. Gosling is not that deep, and his continued free-fall descent into look-at-me acting has reached a saturation point he should be worried about.
If I went by the reaction of the audience at the screening I attended, "Lars and the Real Girl" is a riotous endeavor from start to finish. However, I don't believe the movie was created with that one-note result in mind. Gillespie wants the viewer to care about Bianca and Lars beyond the superficiality of comedy, but the film's quaking, unsteady delivery confuses that objective repeatedly. It a patchy movie, but considering the obvious button-pushing twang of the plot, I'm stunned there's anything in this film to praise.