Back in 2006 I reviewed Half Nelson (a CF Top 10) and swooned over its Oscar-nommed star Ryan Gosling who “looks good with a beard”. It seems that even when he’s put on weight, has terrible hair and suffers with monumental social problems, he’s still pretty sweet. I mean, he’s in love with a sex doll. How much sweeter can you get?
Before we sink into smut territory, remember that our Lars is a gentle soul, religious to boot, so there’s no kinky stuff with the doll. He’s just so painfully frightened of forming human relationships that he invents one with an inanimate object. To be fair, he’s seriously mentally handicapped. I did say he was religious, didn’t I… Ho ho.
So Lars and the Real Girl is the story of Lars’ “relationship” and how it is handled by his family and friends. It’s funny - how can it not be, given the subject matter - especially the initial introductions to his new woman and an awkwardly hilarious dinner with his brother and sister-in-law. It’s also sort of sad - how can it not be, given the subject matter… Poor Lars is battling with many demons, and the film deals with themes of loneliness (“sometimes I get so lonely I forget what day it is”) and the importance of human interaction.
Gosling wheels out parts of his Nelson performance with plenty of ticks and twitches added to Lars’ mannerisms, but he also sells the love felt for the doll and makes Lars a sympathetic character, which isn’t an easy task to be fair. Under other hands he could have been a comedic caricature or an unpleasant weirdo, but Gosling makes him fragile, confused and, most importantly, watchable.
Despite the sombre moments, Lars and the Real Girl is predominantly a sweet and, dare I say it, “quirky” indie film, but by keeping it sweet the film loses a bit of oomph and falters under the running time. Yes, it’s gently amusing and moving to see Lars’ relationship with a doll. Yep, it’s still that. Ok, we’re still doing that. Right, we’re losing interest.
In fact, it’s taken me nearly two weeks to write this review, which is never a good sign. I neither disliked it enough to scathe, or loved it enough to swoon. It’s certainly something a bit different, and Gosling is definitely worth watching (although Emily Mortimer as his sister-in-law is also a strong point). But it doesn’t spark any further points above a CF0. Sorry Lars.