Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) is a quiet and super introverted single man with a dull office job in a small Midwestern town. He refuses to engage in good natured social jousting with his co-workers and shrinks from the flirtatious attention of a co-office worker, Margo (Kelli Garner). Margo shines as a caring, thoughtful but a bit ditzy, sweetheart. Lars attends the local Lutheran Church regularly and lives in the garage apartment behind the childhood home occupied by his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), and pregnant wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer). Karin is continually worried that Lars is friendless and needs companionship and human interaction, which is clearly the case.

Six weeks into the story Lars makes an announcement that he has been joined by a companion, the lovely Bianca, a half-Brazilian, half-Danish missionary, wheelchair bound, young woman raised by nuns, whom he met on the Web. Gus and Karin are thrilled Lars had found companionship until they find out that Bianca is a custom-ordered, anatomically correct, silicone doll. Gus does some online research and then becomes totally appalled at his younger brother’s delusional behavior.

This is the unlikely premise of Lars and the Real Girl, a movie that works a little magic in the telling of a genuinely moving story. Director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Nancy Oliver have given us a film that could touch you at many levels if you are open to see and hear its message. Though the movie is about really about loneliness, and the ways in which it is mitigated by human kindness, it is also a crash course on delusional behavior and treating it as a real mental illness.

The movie critic of The Christian Science Monitor says: “If Frank Capra were starting out today, he might have made a film like this one.” I agree completely.

Though Lars is clearly delusional, to the point of living in two worlds at the same time, this small town community cares for him as a hurting person. (Lars is fully functional in every other way, posing no threat to anyone and working a daily job with no seeming problems.) Mrs. Gruner (Nancy Beatty), notes quite correctly that Lars is “a good boy.” Soon the villagers agree with her and embrace the community-wide effort to make Lars (and his doll Bianca) feel accepted. In Lars’s presence the people all pretend that Bianca is a real woman and the local psychiatrist (Patricia Clarkson) begins to help Lars unpack his life’s story bit by bit as she treats Bianca as her real patient, all the time seeking to reach Lars. Only Gus, his older brother, is humiliated by it all and is greatly disturbed by this turn in his brother’s sanity. But Karin’s forbearance helps Gus to eventually accept his brother and the conversations they have eventually become a profound part of Lars’s healing.

The same Christian Science Monitor reviewer I quoted above concludes his very good review by adding:

When I mentioned Capra earlier, the compliment was double-edged. In attempting uplift, Capra often front-loaded his morality plays with a heavy dose of whimsy. Gillespie and Oliver do a similar thing here. It’s not just that they nix any sexual involvement between Bianca and her beloved. They also present a community in which not even one person attempts to make a public spectacle of Lars. The movie is an idyllic view of life as it ought to be, rather than the way it is.

This is not a blockbuster film but I enjoyed it immensely. It is rated PG-13 and runs for 1 hour and 46 minutes. I think Ryan Gosling plays the role of Lars as well as any actor could play such a character. His work is truly magnificent, both touching and sad at the same time. I doubt he will get the recognition for this role that he deserves but I think he is flat-out brilliant. There are a number of funny lines in the first part of the film that brought quite a crowd response in the theater. But as the audience understood what was really happening the laughter died and one sensed that people were hoping Lars would find himself and begin to live again as a relational and whole person. Rarely have I seen mental issues treated with such compassion on the big screen. The likelihood of a modern community embracing someone like Lars so warmly is almost unthinkable but one does wonder if it would be too much to hope that a church community might somehow look like the Lutherans in Lars’s small town. Healing can take place in many ways but the one place that God has ordained for it to take place is in the family since Scripture says, “he places the solitary into a family.” In the new covenant that family is the local church, or so it seems to me. I left the theater thinking, “Would Lars be truly welcomed so openly in the places where I worship and preach?”

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