Lars and The Real Girl (DVD)

I was originally a bit sceptical about this rather awkward, bizarrely plotted movie about rural America, running at close to two hours. The plot focuses on two brothers whose mother died whilst giving birth to the youngest. The self-assured, successful eldest brother Gus (Schneider) now lives in the family home with wife Karin (Mortimer), who’s expecting their first child, while his younger brother Lars (Gosling) prefers to reside in the detached outside garage. Having been left alone to deal with the isolation and grief of his bereaved father, Lars has become introverted and detached, shunning the affection of his touchingly concerned sister-in-law. Lars’ only real social contact is with his work colleagues, including Margo (Garner), whose shy fondness for Lars is apparent from the outset.

One cold night, Lars appears at the door of Gus and Karin’s, declaring he has a guest. Inviting himself for dinner, he asks that she be allowed to stay in the house with them to preserve her modesty. Their joy is short-lived as a now fully delusional Lars brings around a full size anatomically correct "real girl" sex toy, introducing her to them as his girlfriend Bianca. As a devastated Gus transcends into an unbelieving hysteria about his brother's condition, Karin calmly takes him straight to the family GP, Dr Dagmar Berman (Clarkson), who, luckily, is also a practising psychologist. Dagmar quickly realises that Lars needs the delusion of Bianca for a reason, and implores them to join in on Lars’ fantasy, while she continues her sessions with him. Karin and Gus then set about recruiting members of Gus’ church, his work colleagues - the whole community into playing along in the pretence that wheelchair bound Bianca is living, breathing skin and bones. Beautifully acted, Lars’ relationship with his sister-in-law is endearingly close, with some intimate scenes where Karin desperately tries to cope with Lars’ feeling of isolation, while giving him the love and support he needs to get well again.

The sessions between Lars and Dagmar are also wonderfully poignant – his battle with the fragility of sanity, and the exploration of the definition of sanity when someone is perhaps only reacting sanely to exceptional circumstances. Their time together allows the viewer to not write Lars off as someone who is simply "mad", but to see a caring, loving, sad and sensitive man who has just perhaps lost his way. As Lars deals with his inner demons and relationship with Bianca, Gus deals with his guilt over leaving his brother at home as a youngster to absorb such a dysfunctional upbringing. This is the story of a community who come together to cure their friend of his loneliness, and in their acceptance and inclusion of Bianca into society, Lars is slowly forced out himself. Writer Oliver does a fantastic job of the script, walking the tight rope between laughter and despair, inevitability and hope. An uplifting movie and an intimate look into the beautiful, complicated mind of Lars Lindstrom.

EXTRAS *** A deleted scene (Lars in the bathtub with Bianca); a behind-the-scenes featurette, called The Real Story of Lars and The Real Girl; another behind-the-scenes featurette, called A Rwal Leading Lady, all about casting Bianca; and the theatrical trailer.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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