Friday, April 5, 2013

All the Feels: "Lars and the Real Girl" Movie Review

  I just watched this movie for the first time last night, and I have no doubts that it is on my list of absolute favorite movies. The reason I decided to watch it at all was because my creative writing teacher from my high school told us it was her favorite movie; it certainly sounded intriguing when she described it to us, and that she, a cute little old woman, would enjoy a film with such an odd description. So thanks to her for this, really.
  The most basic description, the one she gave us, really does the movie no justice. But here it is: basically, it is about an emotionally unstable man, Lars, who becomes delusional and has a caring relationship with a sex doll, and how the tight-knit town learns to embrace this odd situation.
  Now actually, that is a very accurate description of the movie. I guess why I say it doesn't give it justice is because of the "sex doll" part. That makes it sound a bit sketchy. First off, let me assure you, his relationship with the doll is completely innocent, and honestly, endearing. And second of all, I know what comes to mind with the term sex doll are well, blow up dolls (I should have predicted this paragraph would take a turn for the awkward...), but that's not what Bianca--yes, that's her name-- is. Basically, Lars finds out about this website selling realistic sex dolls through a coworker who usually watches porn. But like I said, a perfectly innocent situation unfolds in the movie. I just felt the need to get that settled before I really start analyzing the film.
  To Lars, this is his girlfriend. She is foreign (so she doesn't talk much), very religious (they don't even sleep in the same room), and she needs a wheelchair. Lars introduces Bianca first to his brother, Gus, and sister-in-law, Karin. Lars lives in a spare room by the garage of their house, which I believe is also the house they grew up in. Before Bianca was introduced to the story, it showed how Lars was fairly distant and alone, and how Karin was always trying to be friendly, inviting him to dinner and such. So when Lars tells them he has a girlfriend, they're excited, and then shocked when they meet Bianca. Luckily, Karin comes up with the idea of taking Bianca to  their family doctor, who is also a psychiatrist, who then has Lars and Bianca come back on a weekly basis. Karin and Gus also talk to their church and hope for acceptance, which they receive after some discussion ending in "the question we should always ask ourselves: what would Jesus do?"
Lars and Bianca. In case you were having trouble visualizing the lovely couple.
  Once Bianca and Lars attend church, news quickly spreads throughout the community and soon everyone knows about Bianca. And what's great is that everyone goes with it. As the movie goes on, the community not only accepts Bianca but embraces her completely-- she gets a job, volunteers, gets her hair done, etc.
  The person who has the hardest time with it is Gus, mostly because he feels partially guilty for letting his brother become so unstable without stepping in or even really realizing it. Over time Gus learns to accept the situation and opens up to his brother, and they have a great conversation about when they realized they were adults.
  Through this conversation and the conversations Lars has with the doctor, we find out about his past and family, as well as another issue that perhaps better justifies his delusion (I won't specify for the sake of spoilers). The doctor works to help Lars, but still sticks to her original proposition of letting the delusion play out on its own. And so it does, although as Bianca becomes increasingly involved in the community, she and Lars face relationship troubles.
  Throughout the film, another character plays a key role I have yet to touch upon. Margo, a coworker of Lars, is introduced with the obvious notion that she has a crush on him. Once Bianca is introduced, Margo too embraces her and accepts Lars with surprising kindness and no judgement. As the plot unfolds, Lars--first extremely wary of Margo--seems to grow fond of her. But again I must stop myself before the spoilers come.
  Alright, so that's your basic summary of the movie. Now let me recount to you my exact reaction after watching this film: I literally cried and laughed at the same time. I felt all the feels. Granted, I was alone in my dorm, I didn't feel the need to hold back or anything, so I just let the tears fall--and I'm not just saying a few tears rolled down my cheeks, no no-- I flat out sobbed. I let the end credits roll, playing the lovely soundtrack of the movie, and I sobbed. Whenever I would pause my sobbing for breath, I found a huge smile grow on my face. And that would just make me sob more. It was that amazing. Who knows how I'll contain myself if I ever watch it with people.
  So, what about it was so great? Let me tell you.
  First of all, if something gives me that much of an emotional response, it's just a given that the writing is superb. The characterization really brings the characters to life; the dialogue is beautiful while remaining natural and colloquial. And don't worry, the symbolism's there too. The movie just feels real.
  Alright, I might as well address this now-- the acting. Specifically, Ryan Gosling. This is by far, I mean by far, his best performance. Ever. And just to emphasize how big of a deal this compliment is, allow me to elaborate: I'm not a huge fan of Ryan Gosling. I feel like he's usually just type-casted as the hot romantic love interest or the studly manly man. Gosling is not hot in this, at all. He's not really even romantic. What is he then? Real. Oh my god, so real. And charming. His character is so charming and lovable, which just fits perfectly to understand why the town so willingly and easily embraces his issue--because you do too. Lars is such a lovable character, and Gosling portrays him perfectly. The other actors did a great job as well, but I just had to elaborate on how spectacular Gosling was.
  So the next thing I want to talk about gets a little complicated, and in order to explain it I want to give examples, which in turn will have spoilers. I will announce when the spoilers come, and when they end, so if you don't want to have spoilers then just pay attention to the bold-faced print.
  What really fascinated me about this story was that nothing bad happens. Now, I'm being very specific when I say bad-- sad stuff happens, of course (you already know I cried at the end-- this isn't a spoiler, people). But nothing horrible or traumatic has to happen in order for the plot and development and overall story to work as beautifully as it did-- in fact, that's what I think made it so beautiful, so real. Sometimes I think writers--especially with movies-- feel the need for there to be an absolute low point, one horrible distinct action, in order to move the plot of a story. But the writers for this managed to avoid that typical, overused tactic and let the story play out in a much more organic way.
Here are some examples that some might consider to be spoilers:

  • Margo-- I was afraid they were going to make her a bitch. Have her start spreading rumors around and becoming totally mean-spirited and rude towards Lars, but just the opposite happened. She was accepting of him and warmhearted towards him, and more beautifully than that--she treated him the same way after the situation as she did before--no judgement, just love. That's fantastic.
  • Lars-- I was afraid they were going to have him have a violent breakdown. Like if someone made the wrong comment about Bianca, that Lars would throw a punch. But he never did, and that's so perfect because that is so true to his character. Karin at one point blatantly states that he is a sweetheart and has never been violent-- for him to become violent would be out of character.
  • The bowling scene-- there is a scene where Margo and Lars are bowling, and some of Gus's coworkers show up and recognize Lars. I was so afraid they were going to give him a hard time and it would end badly. But it didn't. They just joined them in bowling, and it ended up being a very sweet and cheerful scene. It all the more demonstrates the way the community embraces Lars, and well, everyone-- it goes beyond Lars to show what a tight-knit town is like. That you can just join in bowling with someone and have a good time. I love that.
End of spoiler bullet points--you may read on now:

  That's about all, really. I've rambled for long enough, and all I can do now is highly recommend you see the film. It is on Netflix. And okay, there is one more thing.
  I understand why this film never got the popularity or credit I think it deserved, and maybe view this as the one piece of critical commentary I give the film: the pacing. It's a slow-paced film-- I personally don't mean that to have a negative or positive connatation, it's just a fact. The film is slow paced. The beginning takes awhile, and once you get into the real body of the story, it's still slow. It kind of relates back to what I said above--there is no real dramatic low point, so there's no rush to lead to one, if that makes any sense. I personally didn't mind the slow pacing, but I felt the need to mention it because I'm sure for some people that's a deal breaker (and that's fine--everyone has their own preferences). Still, the film is about an hour and forty-five minutes, and I recommend it so highly-- it is seriously one of my favorite films.
  Well, that's it, you guys. I hope you enjoyed my review and I would love to hear what you think! Let me know, and you'll hear from me in a week.