“Insane!!” would probably be your family’s reaction if you introduced a plastic doll as your “lady friend.” But one evening, shy 27-year-old Lars Lindstrom does exactly that. Before Lars’ brother Gus and his wife Karin meet Bianca—a half-Brazilian, half-Danish missionary—they are told that she is in a wheelchair. But Lars fails to inform them that she is a plastic sex doll. Disoriented, Gus and Karin allow “the girl” to stay at their house, as Bianca and Lars cannot spend the night together due to their religious beliefs. From this premise, Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl addresses themes of love, death, and loneliness. But does it deliver what it promises?
Lonely and alienated, Lars is attracted to the possibility of designing his own anatomically correct woman, and purchases a doll from the “Real Dolls” Web site. Lars does not have sex with Bianca, even though she is clearly designed for it. Instead, he appears to be in love—he sings her Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” and whispers sweet nothings in her ear. His inability to communicate with people prompts him to escape into an imaginary world where Bianca is real. “Delusion” is the diagnosis of the local doctor, who encourages the whole town go along with the idea and treat Bianca as if she was a real person. This small Lutheran community in a remote Midwestern town surprised me with its tolerance and support for Bianca, especially when offering her beauty treatments. Bianca slowly takes on a life of her own, and with this, the film veers toward farce.
Through his “relationship” with Bianca, Lars is able to overcome his past and begins to realise and express his feelings for Margot, the “real” girl. But for Lars to lead a “normal” life, Bianca needs to disappear, and only at this point does the film change into a darker and more disturbing vision, as might be expected from Nancy Oliver, a writer for Six Feet Under. Here the film touches on the issue of how we should deal with mental illness, and suggests that the support of family and community, rather than an asylum, can cure a person. However, the film’s general light-heartedness eliminates the possibility of a believable conclusion. The town’s less-than-believable acceptance of Bianca as a real live woman spoils the story, and confirmed my initial assumption that Lars and the Real Girl is yet more indie bubble-gum, with a characteristic overdose of the same quirkiness found in Juno or Hannah Takes the Stairs, but not much more. The film attempts to address dark themes, but only skims the surface, and it is ruined by a typically hopeful Hollywood ending. Vaguely reminiscent of films like Harvey and Donnie Darko, this film succeeds on one level—it downplays humor and mixes it with a touch of the surreal. This makes it a potentially entertaining watch, but does not substitute for the lack of a good story.
Ryan Gosling puts in a great performance as Lars, but I was left with only one illuminating impression—that of Bianca, a perfect and mesmerising delusion and an accurate analogy with the great illusion of cinema. She allows Lars to believe that what he sees is real, and inspires collective fantasy.