Imagine if the late comedian Andy Kaufman made a feature film. Picture a movie with an authentic indy drama feel and a sturdy cast — but revolving around a ludicrous predicament which is uncomfortable to begin with, and then continues on and on until the absurdity makes you want to scream. Except you can’t scream, because that would be insensitive.
Visualize an innocent man-child at the center of it all, totally oblivious — save for the slightest hint of a smile beneath his wide and glassy eyes.
And now suppose this movie is so well-made and received that top critics see it not as a joke, but as “poignant,” “moving,” and “touching.” Let’s say it rates something like 81 or 83 percent on the Tomatometer, and gets nominated for an Academy Award.
Lars and the Real Girl, a 2007 film written by Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under) and directed by Craig Gillespie, is this movie — and its star Ryan Gosling would make a far better Andy Kaufman than Jim Carey did in Man on the Moon.
Gosling stars as Lars Lindstrom, a severely withdrawn man living in a converted garage next to the house where his brother Gus (Paul Schneider, who played Mark on Parks and Recreation), and Gus’s wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) live. Gus and Lars inherited the property from their father.
Shortly after the movie begins, Lars finally accepts an invitation to join Gus and Karin in the house for dinner — and he brings a date. The date is an anatomically correct sex doll Lars ordered via the Internet. To Lars, however — who is delusional as the result of severe emotional trauma in his childhood — the sex doll is a wheelchair-bound missionary named Bianca, who is part Brazillian and part Danish.
Gus and Karin squelch their horror, and do their best to act naturally and be sensitive to Lars’ fragile mental state. They have dinner with Lars and Bianca.
And so the movie goes, and goes. There is a caring psychologist, and a caring girl where Lars works. There is a whole township full of caring townspeople, including caring paramedics and caring clergy, who all exercise the utmost tact and sensitivity in dealing with Lars and Bianca.
As was the case with many of Andy Kaufman’s comic masterpieces, this preposterous journey ultimately takes us nowhere, even though it does eventually end. At least with Andy’s bits, viewers could enjoy plenty of uncomfortable laughter. Lars and the Real Girl, on the other hand, is not very funny. And as a drama, it’s not at all realistic. There is no township in Wisconsin or anywhere else on Earth where the entire population would go to such ridiculous lengths in playing along with this man’s delusion.
The acting is proficient. Emily Mortimer gives an especially heartfelt performance as Karin. Ryan Gosling shows a subtle tension beneath Lars’ zombielike surface. Have I mentioned that Gosling would make an excellent Andy Kaufman?
All in all, though, Lars and the Real Girl does not offer enough in return for your 106 minutes, which feels more like 130. I rate it two out of four stars.