Saturday, June 28, 2008

#3: Lars and the Real Girl

Directed by Craig Gillespie
Released October 25, 2007

My uncle Tony is pretty much the definition of a man's man. Machismo seeping out of his pores, he's the kind of dude who can't wait to call you a "pussy" for doing things like, I don't know, using an umbrella or saying you're going to go to bed after sharing a few too many beers with him.

Luckily his machismo is the harmless, endearing kind and not the kind that makes dudes take off their shirts before getting into fistfights (which really, when you think about it, is just about the gayest thing ever).

Here's a good example: When I was about 20 years old, my whole family went out to North Carolina for a family vacation. Uncle Tony, in his quest to make his night of cooking (everyone took turns doing lunches and dinners) as macho as possible, bought a hot sauce so ridiculously hot that he had to sign a waiver at the store that he would only use it for cooking and not for pranks or other shenanigans.

Naturally, his meal was almost inedible. Also, he and my father attempted to use the hot sauce in a prank. While my two older brothers (who admittedly were acting like a couple of pricks for the majority of this trip) were off on some excursion in town, my dad and uncle decided to pour hot sauce into their swimming trunks. This plan backfired almost immediately when the fumes from the hot sauce got into their eyes and they spent a half hour in the beach house's outdoor shower screaming like burn victims as they took turns dousing their eyeballs clean.

Like true sweethearts, they threw the trunks into the pool after deciding that no one deserved the punishment that they had just dealt themselves.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when Tony recommended Lars and the Real Girl to me a few weeks back. I had actually heard other glowing reviews from friends and co-workers, but the one from Tony was the final vote that made me decide to check it out. Tony typically has great taste in movies, but is also not one to deal with extraneous artistic bullshit.

I was even more surprised by my own reaction to Lars. Billed as a comedy, the movie is actually as subtle, touching and as sweet of a movie that anyone could possibly make about a guy falling in love with his lifelike latex sex doll.

It's a credit to director Craig Gillespie and writer Nancy Oliver that this movie swerves in the opposite direction every single time you think it's going to be played for shock value or cheap laughs. Rather than turn the premise into the next distasteful sex comedy, it tweaks your expectations constantly, making you feel an honest connection to Lars's family, himself. . . even the doll. What could have been filthy, creepy or embarrassing becomes undeniably touching.

Massive credit should also go to lead actor Ryan Gosling, who has been constantly impressing me even in mediocre films like Fracture. It takes a certain kind of thoughtful actor to see a role like Lars and not ham it up for the folks in the cheap seats. Lars is obviously a bit crazy (we learn in the film that his fear of human contact is the byproduct of years spent alone caring for his depressed and dying father), but Gosling lets that fragility bubble under the surface instead of playing him bug eyed and wacked out.

Take a scene like the office holiday party, where Lars first brings his new "girlfriend" out in public. Gosling's performance in these few minutes is incredible as he walks the line between Lars fully believing his own ruse and knowing that some of the people around him may not. As the people at the party, and subsequently the community itself, begin to accept and adapt to this strange situation, Lars' relationships with the people he once tried to resist become infused with the kind of love he had been unable to accept.

The strangest thing about my reaction to Lars and the Real Girl was how long it took me to put my guard down and admit to myself, "This is really fucking good." I can't really explain it; perhaps it's the subject matter or the preconceived notion I had about a movie with this kind of premise.

I don't really agree with a few of the reviews at that call this movie "Hilarious." There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, but I think the more impressive and powerful thing about this movie is its ability to make you -- hell, to make my uncle -- care about a character who could have been so much more pathetic and unlikeable in the hands of lesser people.

For more on Lars and the Real Girl:
- More movie information at the Internet Movie Database, and also at Wikipedia
- A pretty insanely detailed official movie site
- Buy Lars and the Real Girl at Amazon

Official movie trailer:

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