Written by Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under) and long hailed as one of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood, this disingenuous fable panders to misconceptions about the power of love and acceptance to drive down the demons of mental illness.
Raised by his depressed dad after his mother died giving birth to him and abandoned by his older brother Gus (Paul Schneider), who fled the dysfunctional family home at the first opportunity, 27-year-old Lars (Ryan Gosling) is the town oddball. He has a job and goes to church, but he's shy to the point of paralysis and flinches at the slightest, most casual touch. When Gus moves back to their snowy Midwestern hometown with his pregnant wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer), Lars moves out of the family home into the finished garage. Warm and outgoing, Karin does her best to get Lars to at least join them for meals, but he avoids her as assiduously as he avoids sweet, slightly goofy coworker Margot (Kelli Garner), who's clearly nursing a crush on Lars. Unable to relate to other human beings on any level, Lars orders a "Real Doll," a life-size, anatomically correct sex toy that he names Bianca and introduces to his flabbergasted family as his convent-raised, wheelchair-bound Brazilian girlfriend. Gus is understandably horrified: He's going to have to have his brother institutionalized and that's all there is to it. But compassionate Karin tricks Lars into visiting Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), the local doctor/psychologist, who counsels them to play along with Lars' delusion while he works out whatever mental kink is crippling him. Not only does Karin persuade Gus to follow her advice, but she also appeals to their friends and neighbors to set aside their skepticism and help Lars out. They invite Bianca into their hearts, and Lars emerges far enough from his shell to realize that Margo is actually sort of nice. Now what?
Though many critics were charmed by this film's optimistic view of human nature and fundamental gentleness (which stand in dramatic contrast to LOVE OBJECT, which also deals with a repressed man and the sex doll he treats as real), there's something fundamentally hollow about a film whose main character is entirely defined by his dysfunction and whose supporting characters exist only to enable it. Oliver's screenplay is intelligent without being perceptive; she establishes that Lars is surrounded by people who cling to childish teddy bears and action figures, but pretends that their quirks are somehow equivalent to Lars' evident disability. Gosling is the film's salvation: He really is good enough to make this underwritten fantasy feel as though it amounts to something. But it doesn't. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh