Lars And The Real Girl – directed by Craig Gillespie. Drama. A young man falls for a life-size doll. 106 minutes Color 2007
This piece lacks in pictorial force. The director substitutes histrionic force for it. That is to say we need to see what the actors’ physical bodies are doing, not what their faces are doing, and the reason for that is the female manekin is introduced into their midst as a a living physical being, which brings their body-confidence under attack. The result is that that, with the exception of Patricia Clarkson, everyone in this piece over-acts, that is to say acts irrelevantly. And this is not a function of the fact that everyone in town comes to accept the doll as an actual personage and behaves well towards her, for the townsfolk themselves do not over-act. But the actors who play the brother, his wife, and the wanna-be girlfriend do. This is not a result of the discomfort natural to the insertion of a manikin as a family fiancée, but simply a permitted miscalculation on the part of the director and of each actor, each of whom over-acts in a different way, the result being that by doing so each one of them distracts from the story, which is being told in a straightforward way as though a manikin as a family member were not unusual at all. What is an actor do with this situation? I’ll tell you what he must do: nothing at all. Don’t act anything. Just stand there and take it in and say your lines. By just saying your lines, you may discover that they do not amount to much in such a situation – and that would have enormous physical carrying power for the story before us, not one single element of which depends upon those characters. They must not “fail to understand him;” they must not “leap over into understanding” him. That is not their job, and the director must not let them take such liberties as to “act” — except this director does not know this. This leaves us with Ryan Gosling, a modest talent, to be sure, but one in this case sufficient to misconstrue the part slightly. Lars relates to the doll lovingly and as a boyfriend would. He is not delusional, and he must not be played that way, so the slight shift Gosling gives in this direction is a misstep, since it is a preset opinion which he walks on with and with which he is stuck throughout the characterization as a formula. He does not play “I am delusional,” mind you, but he does play “naiveté”, a sort of monotonous innocence, to which he adds a small flinch, as though Lars were just slightly brain damaged. Nothing of that sort will work in such a part. The part needs to be played as though there is nothing wrong with this person whatever, and as though he was just an ordinary guy and perfectly normal in buying a life-size doll, falling in love with it, talking to it, and pushing it around town in a wheelchair. But that is not what happens. Or rather, it happens only when Patrician Clarkson is on screen, for that is how she relates to Lars and the doll. And only when she is on screen and when we are watching her and listening to her does Lars become human at all. I feel the piece is rather a missed opportunity. It would be a good idea to remake it one day, with different actors, this time with Gosling in the Clarkson role. For me, my attention was being drawn away to the doll, who seemed more life-like than the humans around her, as though any moment she would breathe, rise from the wheelchair, and kiss him. The potential for life seemed so strong in her, but, alas, in her alone.