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July 24, 2007
“Lars and the Real Girl”

Written by Nancy Oliver

“This is Bianca. She's a missionary, but she's on sabbatical to experience the world. She's shy. Everything is so new.”


“Lars and the Real Girl” sounds like it could be a dumb, Adam Sandler comedy. “Get it! He loves the sex-toy!” Har-har. Or it sounds like it could be some weird, Cronenberg-ish movie: “He loves the plastic, the way it feels, the lifeless eyes,” and so on. With a cast that includes Academy-Award Nominees Ryan Gosling and Patricia Clarkson, I don’t know what I expected, but I certainly didn’t expect what I got: “Lars and the Real Girl” is one of the most heart-warming scripts I’ve ever read. If Frank Capra ever made a movie about a lonely young man in love with a sex-doll that was written by “Six Feet Under” vet Nancy Oliver, that’s what “Lars and the Real Girl” would be. Maybe.

I have no idea how this will translate to the screen. Director Craig Gillespie has released nothing as of this writing. The long-delayed “Mr. Woodcock” hits theaters September 14th, and “Lars” barely a month later on October 12th. Is that some kind of record? Regardless, we’ll start hearing about how the script survived his untested directorial hand when it premieres at the Toronto fest in just a few weeks. For now, all we have to go on is the script.

Ryan Gosling is Lars, a thirty year-old man suffering from loneliness and the inability to touch people. He lives in a small home behind the house of his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Gus’s pregnant and loving wife Karin (Emily Mortimer). At the office one day, co-worker Kurt (Maxwell McCabe-Locos) shows Lars a website where you can design your own sex-doll, customizing every single part of its body. Six weeks later, Lars excitedly introduces his new girlfriend Bianca, a missionary on furlough from Africa.

Of course, Bianca is a sex-doll, but Lars seems unaware of this. In fact, Lars clearly believes with all of his heart that she is real. Gus and Karin have never seen him happier, so reluctantly they begin to play along on the advice of Dr. Dagmar, who begins acting as Lars’s shrink under the cover that Bianca is sick. The entire community begins to get in on the act and Bianca becomes one of the most loved patrons of the town alongside Lars, who slowly begins coming out of his skin and maturing into the man he’s always feared becoming. So much so that he begins to fall for co-worker Margo (Kelli Garner).

That’s the lead-in and I suppose I’ll just leave the details scant, but in my opinion, this is a pretty flawless script. I laughed, I cried, I was consistently surprised and delighted by every step writer Nancy Oliver took with it. It’s the kind of spec script I’m sure thousands of writer’s dream of writing and never do. It’s hard to gauge how indie films will track with the film-going public. There’s every chance the basic tagline will scare audiences away. But I hope not.

There is no reason this can’t be this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine” break-out hit. In many (every?) ways this is a stronger script, again, in my opinion, and the fact that it’s fronted by a rising star like Gosling certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s a strong departure from his turn in “Half Nelson” (obviously). It’s more comedic and much more empathetic for starters, and I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure to see Gosling emit a believable, heartbreaking chemistry with Bianca, the best sex-doll character the cinema will have ever seen. Indeed, it’s the last time we’ll see Gosling before he faces arguably the biggest challenge (and role) of his career in Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones.” The rest of the roles are all strongly written, but clearly supporting. The movie’s heart and soul belong to Gosling and Bianca.

Also working for the script is a lack of your typical indie clichés. “Lars and the Real Girl” could very well turn out to be rated PG for starters, and most of it’s humor and quirkiness feels less like the stereotypical indie quirkiness and more like the quirkiness and heart found in the great Spielberg/Zemeckis classics of the eighties. In fact, “E.T.” might be a good model for how the script reads, and I feel like that script and now classic film could have been an inspiration for Oliver’s work here.

In terms of awards consideration, again, who can say? Gillespie may be a complete hack of a director, or he might be the perfect fit for such an oddly delicate script. I’m sure Gosling will get his usual praise from critics, and of course I dearly hope the script gets some love, but it’s all a wildcard until Toronto.

I can’t wait for the trailer, or even a still image. As far as I’m concerned, “Lars and the Real Girl” is the best original screenplay I’ve read (or seen) so far this year, and it has the potential to be a truly classic film. Only time will tell if everyone involved can live up to the incredibly high standard Nancy Oliver has set. Regardless, she might have just become one of the most exciting new screenwriters we’ve seen in a while, and I’m desperately excited to see what she comes up with next.


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