Columnist Annie West talks about a small film she almost missed, but which is definitely worth seeking out.
When I first heard about Lars and the Real Girl I wasn't sure it was a film for me. A shy young man in a small north American town acquires a blow up, life sized female doll (yes, a sex toy doll) and keeps it as his companion. BUT the movie is about as far as you could get from the sort of story that summary suggests! Really. It's one of the most warm-hearted, satisfying stories about love (not just romantic love) I've seen in a long time.
Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) is a likeable, quiet guy. He's polite, helpful, keeps to himself and is what could be described as a 'nice boy'. But we see from the first scene that Lars isn't your average 27 year old. He's retiring, actively avoiding contact with others. He goes to his office job and takes part in community life, but his sister in law, Karin (Emily Mortimer who is fabulous as the caring, concerned, ever-practical woman in the family) sees something is wrong. Lars doesn't notice the longing looks his co-worker and fellow church goer, Margo sends in his direction.
Lars is even reluctant to cross the yard to share a meal with his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Karin. Gus is content to believe his pregnant wife is fussing over nothing. Their father was a quiet, reclusive man too. But the fact that Karin has to flag down Lars' car and then tackle him to the ground to make him stand still long enough to hear the dinner invitation does make you wonder!
Weeks later, after hearing about a new internet site from a work colleague, Lars changes. There's a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Bianca, a foreign girl he met on the net, has come to visit. Rather than avoiding his brother and sister in law he approaches them about hosting dinner for his guest and a providing room for the night as Bianca, who has strong Christian values, wouldn't feel right sharing with him.
Bianca is, you guessed it, a life-sized doll. But as Karin and Gus watch in fascinated horror, Lars treats her as a real person, and is more animated and happy than he's been before. This isn't a practical joke. Bewildered, they give Bianca a room of her own and persuade Lars to take Bianca to the doctor the next day on the pretext she's unwell after her long trip. In one my favourite lines is when we learn the doctor, Dagmar, is also a psychologist. Karin assures Gus all doctors have to be, this far north.
Dagmar's advice to Lars' family is that he truly believes Bianca to be real and the only way forward is to treat her as such until whatever need prompted his delusion has disappeared. Not an easy task, when it means living with a doll and making her part of their lives. The scenes when they introduce her to their friends and community are some of the most heart warming I've seen in a long time, and reinforce how much people in the small town care for Lars.
Dagmar diagnoses Bianca as having dangerously low blood pressure, requiring weekly treatment. Each week time Lars sits and chats with the doctor while Bianca recuperates. The sessions with the unflappable Dagmar are moving and funny and reveal some of the issues Lars faces, as do the scenes with Gus and Karin. Change comes slowly to Lars but each change, like reaching out to shake a hand or summoning the courage to attend a party, is worth the wait.
This movie is about love in so many forms. Lars' love of his family and his search for love that will complete him. Familial love that takes Gus and Karin to situations they'd never had expected and to a new level of understanding. The community's love of Lars which is enough to bring a tear to the eye and a gurgle of laughter to the lips. The shy love of Margo for Lars, who feels guilty their bowling date might be interpreted as a betrayal of Bianca.
This quiet film is very funny, but I wouldn't label it a comedy. There's too much emotional depth. It's moving, surprising, sad, happy and full of a gentle understanding that made me smile. Above all, it was a film that made me feel hope and happiness. If you get time, find Lars and the Real Girl and see what you think. I believe it would be a great way to start the new year!
Annie's celebrating the new year with two releases: BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE in North America and FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET LOVE-CHILD in the UK (Aus/NZ in February). You can read exerpts on Annie's website or enter a contest to win new year's prizes.