A peculiar young man: Gosling in Lars and
the Real Girl.
and the Real Girl
by Craig Gillespie
Who would have thought that a movie about a grown man and
his sex-doll girlfriend would be one of this year’s most sensitive
and compelling films? I half-dreaded having to review Lars
and the Real Girl, for fear it would turn into
some sort of one-note stinker. How wrong I was.
The movie opens with a long shot of Lars (a beefier, more
jowly Ryan Gosling) immersed in what we soon learn is a baby
blanket, looking out a curtained window at a snow-swept Minnesota
landscape. What could be utterly obvious—here is a completely
socially phobic man who lives an entirely solitary existence—is
broken almost immediately by the buoyant presence of Lars’
sister-in-law Karen (Emily Mortimer). Karen and her husband
Gus (Paul Schneider) live in the house that the brothers inherited,
and she is constantly attempting to coax the reluctant Lars
back into the familial home, for breakfast, for dinner, to
live. When Lars finally complies—the result of pregnant Karen’s
literally tackling him into submission—his silence is palpable.
Through a series of brief vignettes showing Lars interacting
with townspeople and coworkers, we realize both the extent
of his isolation and the fact that he is well-liked by everybody.
There’s nothing psychotic about him; it’s as if everybody
just accepts that he’s a bit of a loner. When a coworker shows
him an internet site from which you can mail-order sex dolls,
it doesn’t seem to register, but six weeks later, Karen calls
Lars to inform him that a large box has arrived. That evening,
Lars introduces Gus and Karen to his new girlfriend, Bianca.
The couple’s initial joy at the idea that Lars is coming out
of his shell is immediately doused when they encounter the
plastic, bewigged and anatomically correct Bianca, whom Lars
treats with remarkable sensitivity.
The rest of the movie focuses on the townspeople’s reactions
to Bianca and their attempt to work with Lars’ delusion. As
Karen explains later, this is all done out of love for Lars,
and while it could have seemed completely ludicrous and/or
saccharine, director Craig Gillespie, working from Nancy Oliver’s
script, never lets it go that far. It’s important to note
that this story could never have worked other than in its
far-north setting, where the seemingly endless winter, bleak,
flat geography and a cohesive sense of community are immediately
established. Somehow, the idea that an entire town will go
to great lengths to incorporate Bianca into their lives, even
recruiting her to volunteer at the hospital and electing her
to the school board, makes sense. And from the moment Bianca
appears, Lars blossoms into someone who can actually attend
a party, carry on a conversation, and begin to notice the
attentions of sweet coworker Margo (Kelli Garner).
There is some subtext regarding Lars’ mother’s death in childbirth,
the lack of his heartbroken father’s attention, and Lars’
feelings toward Karen and her pregnancy, but filmmakers keep
things focused on character. This is helped by spot-on performances
from absolutely everybody, including Patricia Clarkson as
the family doctor. That’s not to say that the movie is devoid
of serious undertones; Schneider, whose character could have
come across as a complete numbskull, delicately evokes a brother’s
guilt and, in the process, reveals a lot about a family torn
apart through grief.
In its fable-like way, Lars and the Real Girl weaves
an emotional yet very funny story that says a lot about how
we live and the choices we make with respect to loved ones.
What could have been mined for tawdry jokes or, on the other
hand, turned into maudlin melodrama, is instead a warm and
textured movie that is sure to be on a lot of top-10 lists
Bloodthirsty: Huston in 30 Days of Night.
Days of Night
by David Slade
Adapted from the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith,
30 Days of Night injects fresh blood into the vampire
genre by setting the action in an isolated Alaskan town in
the snowy dead of winter. It delivers quality shocks and offers
fearsome new bloodsuckers, though the filmmakers hang the
picture on a hero-driven narrative as tired as the pun in
The story begins as Barrow, Alaska, is enjoying its last few
hours of sunlight before this northernmost U.S. town is plunged
into a month of perpetual night. There is the usual hustle
and bustle as night-averse residents board the last plane
out of Will Rogers-Wiley Post Memorial Airport, but stranger
things are happening. Most of the cell phones in town are
found in a pile, burned; every sled dog is murdered.
Sheriff Eban (Josh Hartnett) is troubled by all this, but
makes time to mope about his broken marriage to Fire Marshall
Stella (Melissa George). These moments are groaningly obvious,
and carry the ominous import that the two most annoying characters
will be around to the bloody end.
Soon enough, a stranger (Ben Foster) makes himself known by
causing a fight in the local diner. He’s the film’s Renfield,
a human in league with the terror that’s about to descend
on Barrow. Foster, who was Russell Crowe’s scene-stealing
sidekick in 3:10 to Yuma, effects the same theft here.
Unlike Crowe, however, Hartnett wilts in his presence.
Then the bloodbath begins. With communications cut and no
means of escape, the feral, fast-moving vampires descend on
the hapless residents. These scenes are fantastic and scary,
culminating in an virtuoso overhead shot of the townwide carnage.
The vampires do have a touch of the human about them, and
their leader (Danny Huston) is a classic tortured monster.
Huston (who is becoming, after Children of Men, The
Proposition and The Constant Gardener, my favorite
character actor) makes the beast a beguiling mix of ego, cunning,
cruelty and, yes, emotion.
Unfortunately, the humans are deadly dull and don’t give the
audience much reason to care about them. Though Hartnett has
been around for a few years now, it’s clear he hasn’t learned
much about screen acting. The story is keyed to his character
becoming the hero, and the guy can’t even dominate scenes
with no-name actors. This cancels out everything that works
in 30 Days of Night.
As the film builds to its climax, Hartnett’s deficiencies
go from glaring to blinding. The twist ending still ties the
story up neatly, but if the filmmakers think we’re going to
feel anything when the sun rises and the hero faces his destiny,
they’re crazier than the poor saps in the film who think they
can outrun the vampires.