Monday, June 6, 2011

DVD review: LARS AND THE REAL GIRL : quirk that wirks

Lars isn't just shy he's deep frozen. He looks young and hot (Ryan Gosling) but has to put gloves on to shake hands. His town seems to be in perpetual winter which suits him fine as he goes from work or church back home to the garage of the family home now occupied by his brother and wife.

A workmate shows Lars a website that sells a range of highly realistic sex dolls, out of curiosity, sniggering prurience and a deep, genuine interest. Lars is embarrassed and puts his head down. A few nights later he is in his garage smiling at the big wooden packing crate that has landed at his doorstep. Cut to him waking his brother in the main house with a shyly delighted confession that a girl he met on the net has arrived, is in a wheelchair and really could do with the spare room. Brother Gus and sister in law Karin are so overjoyed at this that they rush off to prepare the room. Cut to the pair of them in stunned silence staring at what we know the next shot will be: a life sized masturbation device in the shape of a girl.

Syllable by syllable the pair cope by playing along as Lars reels off a string of inventions rehearsed ever since he clicked on the BUY button. It's insane but they've never seen him so happy and given before. This leads where you think as person by person in the small town buys into the delusion until there needs to be a knock on the door of the medicine cabinet. The ever magnetic Patricia Clarkson treats the doll but really Lars and thus we get to know his troubled history. Does he find his way out? See it.

There is a lot of opportunity here for this film to forget its serious premise and surrender to the cuteness of least resistance the way that US indy films generically do: all too sudden revelations, character details from the blue, set pieces contrived to the point where they look like tableaux vivant and a range of gratingly obvious tropes designed to divert the viewer from the lack of creativity that they are witnessing. I loathe the Little Miss Sunshines, Savages, and Rushmores etc that serve as the inheritors of the Trusts, Smokes and Sex Lies and Videotapes o' the late 80s on. Not all of those earlier ones worked all the time, I'll admit (eg Hal Hartley's teetering output) but you could bet more confidently on them, sight unseen. Lars and the Real Girl is made in that spirit, its touch gentle rather than precious, its emotion digetic rather than gaffer taped on.

There's a scene in the vile Rushmore where Max is expelled and there's a shot of him in tears. It's shoved in there and passed over. Max, if he had the intellect he's depicted with, should have expected nothing less. His quixotic nature has led him there and Wes Anderson made a decision to try and render him pitiable rather than show yet another act of defiance. But there has been nothing genuinely pathetic in the character prior to this and there is nothing after. Anderson recognised an emotion that would cover a gap and shoved it in like a book into an overstuffed shelf. When Lars begins the slow process of what might be his recovery, using the latex Bianca, there is real pain and hazard on the screen. Nothing we see has come from anywhere we haven't already seen. This is a film that, for all its charm and quirks, is about pain and that, in the end lifts it from its indy ranks and to the level of cinema that doesn't need any claims at all to tell its tales.

In case you're wondering, there is a real girl in this story and she's worth discovering for yourself. Ironically, she is the least credible aspect of the story but even her fascination with Lars is given context and weight; it doesn't just happen.

I was sorry to have missed this at the cinemas a few years back. I'd been impressed with Gosling from his role in Half Nelson. When I did miss it I sour grapesed it by writing it off as a quirky indyfest. I was wrong ... very, very wrong. See.

SHADOWS WINTER PART 1 PROGRAM  HERENext screening details below.

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