Thursday, August 7, 2008


Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes sir.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

I guess DuPont wasn't kidding when they declared, "Better Living Through Chemistry." At least that's what I have come to conclude after screening Craig Gillespie's surprisingly intelligent and compassionate LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. Thanks to an extremely well-crafted, poignant and uplifting Oscar-nominated screenplay by Nancy Oliver, this quirky and endearing tale of a reclusive man and his mail-order bride is among the very best movies I've seen in the last year or two.

Lars Lindstrom (no relation to O. G. Lundstom or his daughters, the lovely Lynda among them) is a reclusive, obviously troubled fellow who pretty much lives a lonely life in a garage apartment in back of his brother's home somewhere in the wintery midwest. (Could Lake Wobegon be far away?) Unable to relate to real people, Lars only ventures out of his small, dingy living quarters when he goes to his shared work cubicle or to church. Other than the persistent dinner invitations from his caring, concerned sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer), no one in this small town seems to notice Lars. No one, that is, except Margo, the wholesome, winsome, willowy coworker. Margo is winningly played by Kelli Garner, perhaps the slinkiest actress working today. She's a scene stealer, that's for sure.

Another actress who deserves special mention is Patricia Clarkson, whose character is the surprisingly astute doctor/therapist that Lars sees on a regular basis. In fact, everyone who appears on camera does an outstanding job -- not since John Sayles' MATEWAN (1987) has there been a film more perfectly cast from top to bottom -- but it is Ryan Gosling's eloquently understated Golden Globe-nominated performance as the somewhat troubled Lars that clearly leads the way. With the possible exception of Johnny Depp, it is hard to imagine any other current actor capable of pulling off this difficult role as intelligently or as sympathetically.

And then we come to Bianca -- the remarkably lifelike, full-sized, silicone sex doll. She may be quiet, very quiet, but she is pliant and pliant is good, or so I'm led to believe. And she is just what Lars needs. When the UPS truck pulls away and the large crate is opened, his life changes immediately for the better. In a simple, no-nonsense, matter-of-fact manner, Lars introduces Bianca to everyone as a paraplegic missionary of Brazilian and Danish decent who has come to America on a sabbatical. It's as good an explanation as any, I guess, since nobody seems to really care once the initial shock is over.

Eventually Lars begins to go out far more often than previously, pushing the beautiful Bianca around town in a wheelchair where the townsfolk not only accept her, they begin to individually include her in all kinds of activities. In fact, Bianca is even elected to the school board -- a bit surprising, perhaps, but this is Garrison Keillor Country, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

There's no doubt that love is often blind, and, apparently, it can be inanimate as well, but ultimately Lars' sweet, sentimental journey leads him to the real-life Margo. How this comes about in an honest, uplifting, intelligent way is something to behold. Make no mistake, in the hands of less talented filmmakers LARS AND THE REAL GIRL would be little more than a television sketch. Or, worse -- maybe it would have turned out like LOVE STORY (1970). Even Ryan O'Neal would choose Bianca over Ali McGraw.

While the underlying premise for LARS AND THE REAL GIRL is decidedly offbeat and fanciful, keep in mind that Jimmy Stewart had "Harvey." Tom Hanks had "Wilson." And now Ryan Gosling has "Bianca." Of the three, I'll take Bianca. Don't laugh, she can be purchased from Abyss Creations for a mere $6,499 -- that's a lot cheaper than a high maintenance trophy wife (and remember, Bianca's pliant).