Lars and the Real Girl

Lars (Ryan Gosling) and his unlikely girlfriend in "Lars and the Real Girl." © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox

(Reviewed October 13, 2007, by James Dawson)

In many ways, this movie is a miracle. And here are some of those ways:

It's miraculous that screenwriter Nancy Oliver was able to tell this story without being smutty, stupid or schticky, considering that it's about a mentally unstable man who treats an anatomically correct love doll as if it is his girlfriend. Instead of going for broad gags, smirking crassness or general vulgarity, Oliver somehow has created a sweet, heartwarming and wholesome human story that is, honest to God, the feel-good movie of the year. As of October 13, "Lars and the Real Girl" would be my choice to win every 2007 writing award Hollywood has to offer.

It's a miracle that director Craig Gillespie was able to translate Oliver's wonderful screenplay to the screen with exactly the right tone to keep it from being jokey, pandering or insincere. This is especially noteworthy considering that Gillespie's last directing gig was "Mr. Woodcock." (Okay, to be fair, I didn't see "Mr. Woodcock," because its trailer looked so egregious. So for all I know it may have been a sublime cinematic masterpiece. But I doubt it.)

It's miraculous that every actor in "Lars and the Real Girl" is perfectly cast, considering what a temptation it must have been to hire at least one big name in the hope of getting more opening-weekend box-office dollars. It's beyond frightening to consider how wrong, wrong, wrong this movie would have gone with, just as a f'rinstance, Robin Williams mugging his way through the title role. Instead, Ryan Gosling hits just the right notes as low-key, unsocial but amiable Lars, whose psychological problems are apparent without being hysterically overwrought for cheap laughs or cheaper pathos.

Emily Mortimer is even more impressive as Lars' caring, thoughtful, funny and absolutely adorable sister-in-law. I haven't seen another actress this year whose performance I enjoyed more. She is thoroughly convincing as a small-town wife and soon-to-be mother with nurturing maternal instincts that aren't sickening, and the kind of open-hearted friendliness that seems 100-percent genuine. You will fall in love with her, guaranteed.

Paul Schneider plays her husband and Lars' brother as an amused-if-confused participant in the charade that the love doll is a real girl. The rest of the town goes along, too, all for the sake of Lars. That's because everyone is aware that "the boy ain't right," but everyone also cares enough about him as a friend and neighbor that they don't want to destroy the harmless delusion that makes him happy.

Amazingly, things don't devolve into one of those zany "everybody in town is equally wacky and quirky, so what's one more nut?" scenarios. Another miracle!

Kelli Garner is great as a slightly awkward coworker with a crush on Lars. Patricia Clarkson is quietly convincing as a doctor and psychologist who tries to get Lars to understand that being touched by others, in both senses of the term, is not something he should fear. The score, by guitarist David Torn, is as good as the rest of the movie at avoiding preciousness and predictability.

I liked this movie so much that as of right now it's my new favorite film of 2007.

Back Row Reviews Grade: A