If Ryan Gosling is not the best actor in Hollywood today then I don’t know who is. Last year he portrayed a troubled teacher in the wonderful film “Half Nelson,” for which he was nominated for the Academy Award as best actor. This year the Academy should come calling once again, this time for “Lars and the Real Girl,” a gem of a film in which Gosling plays a socially inept young man, Lars, who suffers under the psychological weight of knowing that his mother died during his birth. He was raised by a broken hearted father and his brother Gus, (played well by Paul Schneider), in whose garage he now lives, left home during his teen years. Lars has no idea how to relate to others, especially women, and is actually pained by physical contact.
For years, Gus and his wife Margo (played by Emily Mortimer with a perfect balance of passion and patience) have tried to help Lars but he continually refuses their kind advances. He is wrapped up in his hurt and sorrow and he seems to be unable to open up in any way to anybody and in turning away from them they too have become hurt.
One day Lars welcomes a visitor to his home: a young woman named Bianca who he claims is a missionary, has medical training, is in a wheel chair, and is a devout Christian. Soon, Lars and Bianca fall in love, much to chagrin of Gus, Margo, and the several members of his church and work communities.
You see, she is an anatomically correct sex-doll who arrived in a crate on a UPS truck. But no worries, it’s not that kind of movie. There is no hint of sexual activity between Lars and the doll, due, of course, to Bianca’s religious beliefs. Rather, Bianca fulfills different needs. In Lars’s mind she is a companion who won’t ask to many questions, she is someone who will love him for him, and she is someone who has an equally, and indeed almost identically, painful past.
However, despite the obvious oddity of the situation, upon the advice of Dagmar, a psychologist (Patricia Clarkson), Lars’s loving friends and family decide to treat the doll as a normal person. They bathe her, talk to her, bring her to church, and take her bowling. As the community comes together in support of Lars, he is forced to face the pain he would rather forget. He learns what it means to be a man, a grown up, and he begins to understand the nature of true love and true sacrifice.
“Lars and the Real Girl” is a remarkable film. Each performance is wonderful. The script is without blemish, and formalistically it is pitch perfect.The film speaks with deep profundity about loneliness, companionship, community, responsibility, fear, faith, and family. If you can see only one film this fall make it “Lars and the Real Girl.”