Lars and the Real Girl is not a comedy, despite the urge to laugh at a man who is romantically infatuated with his life-like sex doll. The title character is a socially maladjusted young man who doesn't speak much and can't stand being touched. But just like anyone else, he gets lonely. When the answer to his prayers arrives in a UPS box, he begins an emotional journey through his delusional relationship. Sure, it sounds like Farrelly brothers fodder, but director Craig Gillespie
plays it straight -- for better and for worse.
Once the anatomically-correct doll arrives and Lars introduces it to his brother and his wife, the laughs dissipate as quickly as they arise. It's absurd for sure, Lars parading around a doll as a real person -- cutting up her meat at dinner and tucking her into bed at night -- but there is no over-acting nor subjective shots that would emphasize the ridiculousness. Instead, shaky, hand-held shots amp up the tension when Lars' brother and his wife are arguing in the kitchen over how to handle Lars and his new lover. Article continues below
We never truly believe "Bianca" as a character (inanimate or otherwise) and, as a result, Lars and the Real Girl never hits the emotional marks it needs to. Perhaps it's the absurdity of the situation, but we are never able to connect with any of the characters. As word of Lars' condition spreads across the small town, the solution is for the population to treat "Bianca" as a real person. It's a story telling misstep, as the film already solidified itself as more drama than comedy.
Instead of connecting with Lars' emotional struggle, his supposedly poignant, sub-conscious confessions to "Bianca," such as telling her that the flowers she gets from a church-goer "aren't real, so they'll last forever," lands with a thud. Yet, the uncomfortable laughs and chuckles when Lars is singing to "Bianca" in the tree house or taking her to the mall points out our reactions to mental illness. We don't understand it, so we find it funny because it would be much too depressing to actually think about a person actually loving a doll.
Unlike Gillespie's and his cast's inability to make us believe in the characters and the doll, the film does call us out on our laughter. At one point, Lars' brother and his wife are giving the doll a bath. The difficult task ends with the doll face down in the water and Lars' brother asks, "Why are we doing this?" "Because it's helping Lars and it's funny," his wife replies. "Is it funny?" he rhetorically questions. It's a moment that could have hit us in the gut, if we could hear it over our own awkward laughter.
Without emotional grounding or biting, ironic subtext to latch onto, the film feels 20 minutes too long. We know that Lars will overcome his delusions and eventually connect with the girl from work, who has been showing interest in him from the first five minutes. Although Lars and the Real Girl never truly succeeds in being a fulfilling drama or gut-bursting comedy, it does at least honestly approach its subject, which is a rare trait in either genre.