Loneliness is a welcomed theme when making films about the big city. But even simple guys in little community-driven towns can be lonely. Lars is such a guy, and when he finally decided to reach out it's not how people expected it to be. Lars and the Real Girl turns out to be a surprising film coming from the man who blessed (*cough*) us with Mr. Woodcock earlier that year.
Comedy is a difficult genre. Not only because tastes in humor vary wildly, but also because defining sub genres is almost impossible. Lars and the Real Girl contains very high doses of dry humor with a dark rim, but "dry humor" is a term with many interpretations. I've seen it used for films ranging from Groundhog Day to The Big Lebowski and even the likes of Scary Movie. And yet, Lars and the Real Girl isn't like any of those films.
To me dry humor is humor with no real jokes. It's delivered in a deadpan manner, served as drama but ultimately so freaky or weird that it becomes fun. My favorite example is Dai-Nipponjin as it takes the concept one step further and goes documentary style. But Lars and the Real Girl is a refreshingly good attempt seldom seen coming from an American director. It's a lovely tragicomedy delivering drama and humor in impressively balanced amounts.
When Lars finally brings a woman home it turns out to be a doll. An anatomically correct doll, though that doesn't matter much since Lars is a dedicated Catholic. His brother and expecting wife don't really know how to handle it at first, but when the town community decides to play along with Lars he slowly builds up a social life. It's remarkable how quickly the audience adapts to the situation as well. The reaction of the community is highly unlikely and almost entirely dictated by the feel-good vibe of the film, but at the same time we as an audience are quick to accept Bianca (the doll) as just another character in the film.
Typically the beginning is more focused on comedy while the ending has more dramatic impulses. Or maybe it's because over the course of the film Lars' character grows on you and the funny parts becoming more tragic as we get to feel for him. Lars is played by Gosling who's putting in a tremendous effort. Strictly speaking his job isn't too difficult as Lars is a typical character with obvious characteristics and some obvious mannerisms, but around halfway through the film he adds a much-needed amount of flesh and blood to his character, something quite rare for a comedy. The supporting cast is equally strong, especially brother Gus is a important asset to the humorous side of the film.
Visually not much is happening in the film. It's not really Hollywood, it's not really arthouse. Extremely functional and quite grey and boring (though that is a huge part of the setting), not much is done to make it stylistically stand out. The music is similarly bland but functional. I would usually fault a film for this but since this blandness becomes part of the setting it's not really a big issue. Alternative, this is one of those rare films where drama and comedy are strong enough to carry the film on those merits alone.
Lars and the Real Girl is rare gem blending dry humor with well-dosed drama and a feel-good vibe. Many people seem to miss the humor but I've been smiling and laughing throughout the whole film. The acting is strong, making sure the somewhat bland presentation never becomes a real issue. Good stuff and refreshingly funny.