Monday, January 31, 2011

Lars and the Real Girl. (2007) Craig Gillespie

I don't know how much I'm allowed to reveal about the results of the A&F Top 100 vote this year -- it goes public in just a few days -- but it's safe to say I can talk about one of the films that didn't make it on the 2011 list, a staggering oversight which I feel I should have campaigned much harder for. I only saw Lars and the Real Girl for the first time in mid-December, so I didn't have much time to put a campaign together before the vote, which was just after Christmas. The holiday season probably threw me off a little bit, too. You know how you never get any of the normal stuff done during the holidays, right? Still, I wish I'd made a stronger case for a film that didn't make it on what I consider the greatest list of the greatest films. The next vote is in 2013. I'll begin the new campaign now.

First of all, I must admit the film took me by surprise. Oh, sure, I knew it received indie accolades here and there, and I'd listened to quite a few trusted friends rave about it for the past three years. But, I mean -- a guy that falls in love with a sex doll? It sounded morbid, or prurient. One or the other. It didn't seem like the kind of film that would honestly be worth my time. The concept reminded me of very bad comedy, the kind with guys and boobs and beer. The kind that might have been funny when I was fourteen but don't have much taste for now.

So when my wife began talking about it (I'm still trying to figure out how she saw it before I did), and when it was actually nominated for our list, I guess I finally came to my senses and said, "OK -- too many trusted sources are telling me about this one. This is a two-hour risk I need to take."

So I saw it one night -- and have been gushing ever since.

It's a wonderful story. It's warm, very full of heart, the kind of heart that makes you want to do better, be better, and believe in the better aspects of your fellow man.

It's the story of Lars, a somewhat recluse Minnesotan, living in his brother's garage in the wintry cold of small town life. Lars works a regular old cubicle job in the day and the rest of the time hides from his brother and sister-in-law, who live inside the house. He keeps to himself like a winter hermit in the garage, avoiding breakfasts and dinners inside until sis stalks and tackles him and practically drags him in for dinner.

Lars is quiet, polite, kind, and on his own. He's happy to be that way. He's not hurting anyone by remaining a bit isolated. He does his job and pays his bills and life is fine for him as a gentle loner.

When a co-worker shows Lars a website of gals-put-together (what color hair do you want her to have? how big do you want her chest to be? etc.), it would, in any other movie, be a filler scene, perhaps to simply show one of the perverse tendencies of the guy in the next cubicle. Not so here. A few weeks go by and suddenly a very large box addressed to Lars shows up at the house. It's indescribable other than to say that Lars has found himself a new friend -- like a six foot Barbie doll he'll have to dress and feed and imagine all her thoughts.

The box is discreetly opened and Lars brings his friend out to meet the family. He's strangely invented a history for her, and lets bro and sis know about her background: she's a Brazilian-Dutch missionary's daughter and a born-again Christian. She's a mesmerizing, good-looking chick by any standard, with butt-length black hair and a body to die for. Her name is Bianca, by the way. She's silent to all those who aren't Lars.

If you haven't seen the film, I know this sounds crazy. And it is, don't get me wrong. We're not watching a comedy -- side splitting as some of the scenes turn out to be (I think I fell off the couch laughing at one moment) -- but we're watching the beginning of some kind of mental illness in Lars. It's hard for the town doctor to pin the illness down with a name or proper diagnosis. And again, Lars is no threat to anyone around him. But he's showing up at the doctor's office and different social occasions with Bianca, and he's the only one who hears her talk, and he takes care of her -- and he's weirding people out.

If you've heard of the film's premise but not seen it, you might jump to the conclusion that Lars's love for this girl is a sexual issue. It is not. In fact, I dare say to any woman ever reading this: You could only be so lucky to be Bianca and have Lars as your best friend. He is such a gentleman with her, loving and kind, watching out for her needs and taking care of her. He talks to her, questions her, asks her about her likes and dislikes, and later, in relational arguments, questions her likes, which at this point are less and less him.

Every relationship will deal with troubled weather. Lars and Bianca are different in many aspects, but certainly not this. The second half of the story deals with their troubles -- why she won't accept Lars's constant marriage proposals, and her sickness, which worsens to the end.

The good folk of the little town, and how they come to accept this relationship and help Lars in it, are the key to the joy found in Lars and the Real Girl. Their kindness is overwhelming. It's not sappy -- it's admirable. This is the kind of film that makes you want to look at people differently, even those struggling with problems you don't get, problems you'll never understand. Lars and the Real Girl suggests that we don't need to fully understand in order to retain our sense of love and compassion, and that our existence here is to reach out and help.

Comical, subtly serious, full of faith and determined to approach mental illness from a unique and fresh perspective, Lars and the Real Girl is too complex to fully delve into in one small post on a blog.
I guess I'll simply wrap up by saying it's one of my overlooked favorites from the past few years, highly recommended for those who want to encounter a gentle spiritual lift. It's a beautiful film, filled with wonderful characters captured in a story that's as strange as it is miraculous. If you haven't seen it, add it to your list of the ones you missed. It'll be worth your time, and that's a promise.

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