Thursday, November 1, 2007

Crazy for You

Lars And The Real Girl presents the improbable tale of Lars Lindstrom, a socially inept dude in a middle-American small town right out of A Prairie Home Companion. He's shy of thirty and shy about meeting women. Lars solves his social anxiety disorder by purchasing a $6,500, anatomically correct female doll (the "Real Girl" of the title) — after which, he gives her a name (Bianca) and a back story, starts treating her like a real girl, and introduces her to the people he's close to. Instead of locking Lars in the loony bin, the town shrink advises Lars' friends and family to play along. They do.

You probably think you know where the movie's going — but it doesn't go there. It's not a twee allegory of the power of belief to turn fantasy into reality. (Or, for that matter, a Jack Black movie.) Screenwriter Nancy Oliver and director Craig Gillespie had something more original in mind.

Oliver's hero — Lars — is a damaged human being and not an allegory. Oliver did what screenwriters often don’t: She took her premise seriously and worked out its implications realistically. Rather than pushing buttons for effect, she showed us what the life of this character (somebody who experiences physical touch with another human being as pain) would be like. She gave us an honest story, not a cute story.

After years of Hollywood conditioning, you don't expect that. You're jonesing for an allegorical fix. Somehow, Bianca is going to become (a thousand critics googling “Pygmalion” as we speak) a real real girl.

The Minnesota villagers humor Lars in his delusion. A typical Hollywood movie would take that premise and do something cute with it — find a way to turn Bianca into a "real" girl.

One real life woman would gradually substitute for Lars’ plastic, fantastic chick — and probably change her name to "Bianca." Lars would never notice the seamless transition.

Either that, or some cheapjack "Magical Realism" in which Bianca literally tranforms into a real girl. 

That’s not what happens in Oliver’s story.

Instead, Lars wakes up from his delusion on some level (and, in fact, desiring a real-life woman) makes a decision (subconsciously or consciously) that his doll woman must die. In the delusional narrative Lars creates, Bianca gets sick and dies. When she’s finally dead, he howls with pain. After that, he does connect with a real real girl. But there’s no painless substitution or cute ending — it’s more like chopping his arm off.

Granted the premise, that’s what would really happen — though it may be argued that people aren’t as nice in the real world as they are in the Minnesota of Nancy Oliver’s imagination. I’d like to think they are — or could be — especially in the way they act to the very real and very damaged people among us.

One “Dogville” is enough.

Nitpicky analysis: