Thrill-seeker teens walk away, now. Look at the 12A and put it back in the trousers. There’s no flesh-on-rubber here, just heart-to-fake-heart as loner Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) hangs with a girl, Bianca, off t’internet. Anatomically correct, she can do a lot of what a man wants from a woman, but her buyer didn’t pay his $6,000 for that. She is rather a substitute for a real relationship, one he can lead entirely in his head.
In Craig Gillespie’s funny/sad Capra-esque debut, Lars’ infatuation is the result of a life steeped in grief. His mother died during his birth and 27 years on he remains overwhelmed, physically and mentally unable to connect. Bianca, the doll, symbolises matricidal guilt. It’s twisted, but for Lars it works – helped no end by lovely sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) and reluctant brother Gus (Paul Schneider), both urged to play along on the advice of Lars’ shrink Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson).
Family, though, is one thing. The entire town bending over backwards for a neighbour’s neurosis – no one ever mocking or beating the crap out of Lars for his peculiar fixation – is downright iffy. It’s schmaltz cranked to Truman Show levels, the hero seemingly a case of Prozac away from shrilling, “Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!”
Salvation comes from Gosling (as well as Clarkson, Mortimer, Schneider – all excellent). In a quality year the lead didn’t nab an Oscar nom, but he shows new qualities here and carries his simple Lars convincingly – no mean feat with a script often verging on cliché (“Sometimes I get so lonely I forget what day it is, and how to spell my name.”) He takes hard-to-believe make-believe and makes it believable... What’s more, get past the fantasy/sex-doll façade and you’ll find a message the 59 million active users of Facebook could well take heed of. Fake interaction to excess isn’t healthy – face-to-human-face heals. Sometimes it may be easier to keep a distance, but, as Lars And The Real Girl proves, it’s simply not the best thing to do.