Lars and the Real Girl
|Lars and the Real Girl|
|Directed by||Craig Gillespie|
|Written by||Nancy Oliver|
|Edited by||Tatiana S. Riegel|
|Music by||David Torn|
|Distributed by||MGM Distribution Co.|
|Box office||$11.3 million|
Lars and the Real Girl is a 2007 Canadian-American romantic comedy-drama film written by Nancy Oliver and directed by Craig Gillespie. It stars Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, and Patricia Clarkson. The film follows Lars (Gosling), a kind-hearted but mentally ill young man who develops a romantic yet nonsexual relationship with an anatomically correct sex doll, a "RealDoll" named Bianca.
Though a commercial failure, Lars and the Real Girl was critically acclaimed, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, while Gosling received nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.
Lars Lindstrom lives a secluded life in a small Wisconsin town. It is gradually revealed that his mother died when he was born, causing his grief-stricken father to be a distant parent to Lars and his older brother, Gus. Gus left town as soon as he could support himself, returning only to inherit his half of the household when their father died.
The inheritance has been divided between the brothers: Lars lives in the converted garage; Gus and his pregnant wife Karin live in the house proper. Lars is pathologically shy; to get him to come to dinner, Karin has to jump out in front of his car as he drives in, tackle him to the ground and sit on his back until he agrees to come. He is also shy at the office, where a co-worker named Margo likes him but he is impervious to her attempts to be friendly.
His crude male cubicle-mate, who hurtfully teases Margo, shows Lars a website where people can order an anatomically correct life-size doll customized to their preference in looks. Soon after, a large package arrives at the garage; that evening Lars tells Gus and Karin that he has a visitor whom he met via the Internet, a wheelchair-mobile missionary of Brazilian and Danish descent named Bianca. They discover that Bianca is such a lifelike doll, which Lars is treating as a live woman; he asks if Bianca can stay in Gus and Karin's guest room, as she and Lars are religious and do not want scandal about their relationship. After Gus's initial bad reaction and Karin's revulsion at the doll's obvious intended use, they acquiesce in this and Karin lends "Bianca" some less sexy clothes. Concerned about his mental health, they convince Lars to take Bianca for a checkup to the family doctor, Dagmar, who is also a psychologist. Dagmar diagnoses Bianca with low blood pressure and advises Lars to bring her in for weekly treatments. Her aim is to have regular contact with Lars, hoping to get to the root of his behavior. She explains to Gus and Karin that his delusion is a manifestation of an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. She urges them to assist with his therapy by treating Bianca as a real person. Meanwhile, a tired-looking mother has let her little boy sit on Bianca's lap in the waiting room, foreshadowing the town's willingness to pretend along with Lars.
Lars begins to introduce Bianca as his girlfriend to the townspeople. Due to their concern for Lars, everyone treats Bianca as a real person. Lars soon finds himself interacting more with people. During this time, Margo has begun to date another co-worker, which silently bothers Lars.
Lars asks his brother when he knew he had become a man and what being a man means. Gus says he knew it when he began doing the right things for the right reasons, even when it hurt. Gus gives several examples, including their father keeping them and taking care of them, even though he didn't know how. Gus says that he never should have left Lars alone with their father, and he apologizes for being selfish. Their conversation seems to reach Lars and his dependence on Bianca immediately seems to shift.
The crude co-worker hurts Margo by hanging her teddy bear mascot. Lars cheers her up by removing the noose and solemnly pretending that he is giving the bear CPR, "reviving" it. During the ensuing conversation, Margo reveals she has broken up with her boyfriend. She invites Lars to go bowling, which he initially declines before reconsidering. The two join several friends, and Lars finds himself enjoying the camaraderie and cheering. Lars is quick to remind Margo he could never cheat on Bianca. Although obviously disappointed, Margo replies that the thought never crossed her mind. As they part, Lars takes his glove off to shake Margo's hand—a significant advance in his ability to interact with others; he earlier explained to the doctor that others' touch felt like "burning".
Gus, Karin and the townspeople treat Bianca more and more as one of them; they elect her to the school board. When Karin and some friends dress Bianca and take her away for a girls' night out without first consulting Lars, he "quarrels" with her and shouts at her. The women admonish Lars that Bianca has a life of her own.
One morning soon after, Lars announces that Bianca is unresponsive, and an ambulance rushes her to the hospital. Once there, he tells his family that her prognosis is not good and that Bianca would like to be brought home. The news spreads through town, and everyone whose life has been touched by Bianca sends flowers or sits with Lars at the Lindstrom home. For the first time, Lars lies down on the guest-room bed with Bianca, keeping a chaste vigil with her. Gus and Karin ask Dagmar why this is happening, and she reveals that it indicates a significant shift for Lars. They suggest that Lars and Bianca join them for a visit to the lake. While the couple is hiking, Lars gives Bianca a very sad farewell kiss. As Gus and Karin make their way back from the hike, they discover despondent Lars in the lake with a "dying" Bianca.
Bianca is given a full-fledged funeral that is well-attended by the townspeople. After Bianca is buried in the local cemetery, Lars and Margo linger at the grave site. When Margo states that she should catch up with everyone else, Lars asks her to take a walk with him instead, to which she happily agrees.
The film Lars and the Real Girl has very clear ties to Ovid’s story of Pygmalion. Lars plays the modern version of Pygmalion in this romantic comedy adaptation. The story of Pygmalion is a story of unusual love as Pygmalion falls in love with his statue of a beautiful ivory woman. To Pygmalion, this statue is real, “He often felt the statue with his hands, to see if it was flesh, or ivory still, and then no longer admitted it was ivory”. Similarly, Lars sees Bianca as a real girl; he holds conversations with her, changes her clothes, puts her to sleep and washes her. Both Lars and Pygmalion find this false connection out of love and loneliness. For Lars, the love is romantic and fulfills a role in his life that was missing, while Pygmalion’s is both romantic and sexual love. Lars and Pygmalion’s stories come to a happy end when both realize what they want in life and put forth the work to accomplish this, though the difference is that Pygmalion's love actually makes the statue into a living woman, Galatea, while Lars must let Bianca "die" and move on.
- Ryan Gosling as Lars Lindstrom
- Emily Mortimer as Karin Lindstrom
- Paul Schneider as Gus Lindstrom
- R. D. Reid as Reverend Bock
- Kelli Garner as Margo
- Nancy Beatty as Mrs. Gruner
- Doug Lennox as Mr. Hofstedtler
- Joe Bostick as Mr. Shaw
- Liz Gordon as Mrs. Schindler
- Nicky Guadagni as Mrs. Petersen
- Patricia Clarkson as Dagmar Berman, MD
- Karen Robinson as Cindy
- Maxwell McCabe-Lokos as Kurt
- Billy Parrott as Erik
- Sally Cahill as Deb
- Angela Vint as Sandy
- Liisa Repo-Martell as Laurel
- Boyd Banks as Russell
- Darren Hynes as Moose
- Víctor Gómez as Hector
- Tommy Chang as Nelson
- Arnold Pinnock as Baxter
- Joshua Peace as Jerry
- Aurora Browne as Lisa
- Alec McClure as Steve
- Tannis Burnett as Nurse Amy
- Lauren Ash as Holly
- Lindsey Connell as Victoria
In The Real Story of Lars and the Real Girl, a special feature on the DVD release of the film, screenwriter Nancy Oliver reveals the inspiration for her script was an actual website, RealDoll.com, which is featured prominently in the film. While researching "weird websites" for an article, Oliver found RealDoll.com. She wrote the script in 2002.
The film, set in the American state of Wisconsin, was filmed with a US$12 million budget on location in Alton, Elora, King Township, Toronto, Uxbridge, and Whitevale, all located in the Canadian province of Ontario. Film credits include Rosalie MacKintosh as "Bianca wrangler" and Karly Bowen as "assistant Bianca wrangler."
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 9, 2007 before going into limited release in the U.S. on October 12, 2007. It initially opened on seven screens in New York City, New York; and Los Angeles, California, and earned $90,418 on its opening weekend. It later expanded to 321 theaters and remained in release for 147 days, earning $5,972,884 domestically and $5,320,639 in foreign markets for a worldwide box-office total of $11,293,663.
The film was featured at the Austin Film Festival, the Heartland Film Festival, the Torino Film Festival, the Glasgow Film Festival, and the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival.
Lars and the Real Girl received positive reviews from critics, with Gosling's performance being universally acclaimed. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a "Certified Fresh" score of 81%, based on reviews from 138 critics, and an average rating of 7.10/10. The site's critical consensus states, "Lars and the Real Girl could've so easily been a one-joke movie. But the talented cast, a great script, and direction never condescend to its character or the audience." On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 70 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three and a half stars out of four and observed, "The film wisely never goes for even one moment that could be interpreted as smutty or mocking. There are so many ways [it] could have gone wrong that one of the film's fascinations is how adroitly it sidesteps them. Its weapon is absolute sincerity. It has a kind of purity to it."
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said, "American self-nostalgia is a dependable racket, and if the filmmakers had pushed into the realm of nervous truth, had given Lars and the town folk sustained shadows, not just cute tics and teary moments, it might have worked. Instead the film is palatable audience bait of average accomplishment that superficially recalls the plain style of Alexander Payne, but without any of the lacerating edges or moral ambiguity."
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times described it as "the sweetest, most innocent, most completely enjoyable film around," "a film whose daring and delicate blend of apparent irreconcilables will sweep you off your feet if you're not careful. The creators of this film were fiercely determined not to go so much as a millimeter over the line into sentiment, tawdriness or mockery. It's the rare film that is the best possible version of itself, but Lars fits that bill."
Lou Lumenick of the New York Post awarded the film three out of four stars, calling it "an offbeat comedy that plays as if Preston Sturges came back to life and collaborated with the Coen Brothers on an updated version of the Jimmy Stewart film Harvey (1950). He added the script "eschews cheap laughs for character-driven humanist comedy, and is sensitively directed by Craig Gillespie."
Alissa Simon of Variety stated, "Craig Gillespie's sweetly off-kilter film plays like a Coen brothers riff on Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon tales, defying its lurid premise with a gentle comic drama grounded in reality ... what's fresh and charming is the way the characters surrounding the protagonist also grow as they help him through his crisis."
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- Ovid (2017). Metamorphoses. Translated by Simpson, Michael. University of Massachusetts Press.
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