Screenwriters: Nancy Oliver
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson
Running time: 106 mins
An excellent performance from Ryan Gosling cannot save this quirky tale of a man's love for a lifesize doll from being a rather deflating experience. Unlike the doll, the script needed more than a puncture repair kit to save it.
The film charts the obsession between loner Lars (Gosling) and a lifesize blow-up he buys on the internet and names Bianca. Despite the horror of his brother and sister-in-law, Lars treats his plastic companion as real, taking her to church, to the doctor and proclaiming that they have a future together as a couple. Can anyone find a way to help Lars see the truth? Will the doll come alive and announce herself as the daughter of Kim Catrall's character in Mannequin? Sadly, the answers are yes and no.
There's undoubtedly a cracking premise to the film, but it never comes close to exploiting its potential and veers awkwardly between psychological study and broad humour at times. There are frequent and increasingly tedious reaction shots of onlookers with comically aghast expressions whenever Lars takes his doll out and about, as if the film has taken a trip into American Pie territory. This serves to detract from the more restrained direction that highlights the emptiness and sadness within Lars's life, underlined by a minimalist score.
Ryan Gosling skilfully manages to create the multi-layered, damaged individual at the centre of the film. He wisely prevents the facial tics and assorted bizarre behaviour from becoming a caricature of mental illness, and it's a performance that neither craves an overly sympathetic response from the viewer, nor one of disgust. Instead, we're wisely allowed to arrive at our own conclusions.
Lars's scenes with his benevolent physician, played with authority by Patricia Clarkson, help to gradually peel his psychological skin and build a sense of mystery at the underlying cause for his somewhat unconventional idea of romance. In a way, the central conceit is rather like the television programmes Life On Mars or Ashes To Ashes, in which the central protagonist can only return to reality once they've solved something within their own psyche.
Lars And The Real Girl also benefits from a pleasing narrative structure that allows Lars's friendship with a female colleague to develop and culminate in a satisfying pay-off during the denouement. Although the comedy elements sit uneasily with the portrait of mental illness, rather like Bianca's appearance in church, there are a handful of isolated moments that create a fair amount of mirth.
However, occasional laughs and sporadic interest can't quite wipe away the feeling that the pivotal idea wasn't developed to its full potential.