On the surface, the premise sounds completely absurd. An off-kilter loner named Lars (Ryan Gosling, “The Notebook”) purchases a sex doll online, names her Bianca and persists in believing her to be a real person for several weeks, even going so far as to get her hair cut and dress her in different clothes each day. Soon, the small town in which he lives rallies behind him, and after a while, he has everyone treating Bianca as if she were real.

Kelly Fraser
COURTESY OF MGM

Absurd? Maybe a little. But in the capable hands of Gosling, it’s nothing short of, well, touching.

Gosling, Hollywood’s rising golden boy, has never had a role quite like this. It’s as challenging as it sounds. In the wrong hands the character runs the risk of becoming a bad joke or even borderline disturbing. Lars is socially awkward, delusional and barely walking the edge of sanity. It’s easy to imagine the character slipping into total creepiness without Gosling’s soulful interpretation.

Gosling wears his pain etched plainly across his face, and it only takes one mournful glance for him to win over the audience. He’s careful not to give too much away too soon, and it’s a delight to watch the inner workings of his character become clearer with each passing scene. Many of his scenes involve simply him and the doll, but it’s impossible to look away. Gosling doesn’t just hold our attention, he demands it, and by the end of the film he has us actually getting choked up over the fate of the doll.

Bianca is more than just plastic to Lars, and soon she comes to represent so much more to the people of the town and the audience. It’s at this point you may think you know how the movie will end, but not so fast. Nothing about the film is standard, allowing us to ignore some of its minor absurdities. Yes, the thought of a man buying a sex doll and, in doing so, uniting his town and growing as a person is ludicrous. There are moments in which the film could easily take a different path and become just as ridiculous as it should be. Thankfully for us, it never does.

Helped by a supremely talented supporting cast, including Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer, the film’s sincerity is evident. There are no forced laughs and the blossoming romance between Lars and small-town girl Margo (Kelli Garner, “The Aviator”) is handled with delicate care.

It’s not often a film can make its viewers laugh, cry and then think about their own lives. It’s even more rare for a film to do all this and not feel manipulative. “Lars and the Real Girl” doesn’t cheat and rely on cliché melodrama to tug on its audience’s heartstrings, but instead chooses to focus on real human emotion and turmoil.

It’s nice to see some original films are still being produced. Not only that, but an original film that’s actually better than just about anything else out there at the moment.

4 out of 5 stars.

Dolls are creepy

The idolized sex toy in “Lars and the Real Girl” is hardly the way Hollywood favors its dolls. The usual
suspects:

‘Child’s Play’ (1988)
A serial killer places his soul inside the body of a doll, and it’s not long before the doll is carrying out his life’s work.

‘Dead Silence’ (2007)
A murdered ventriloquist gets her final revenge from beyond the grave through her vast collection of dolls, which she deems “her children.”

‘Puppet Master’ (1989)
Upon discovering an ancient Egyptian secret, a puppet master gives life to his puppets – and inadvertently turns them into killers.

‘Poltergeist’ (1982)
While the monsters aren’t dolls, it’s hard to ignore the iconic image of that creepy clown doll terrifying the two children.

‘Mannequin’ (1987)
Another anomaly: Starving artist builds a mannequin that comes to life. It’s not scary, except that she dates Andrew McCarthy.

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