Thursday, May 1, 2008


Now here's a film with a story I just couldn't buy into. Cloyingly written by SIX FEET UNDER scribe Nancy Oliver (who inexplicably received an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay) and directed with zero personality by Craig Gillespie (MR. WOODCOCK), LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (*1/2) is an extremely well acted dramedy with a farcical edge that must've seemed a lot funnier on paper than it ended up becoming on screen. But only it wasn't. I read Oliver's script a few years ago while interviewing to work for Sam Raimi. I was given three scripts (LARS, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, and THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE) to read and provide "coverage" on. "Coverage," for anyone out there not working in the industry and reading this, is a roughly 2 page summary and critique of a script that a junior development exec or assistant provides for their boss so they don't actually have to do the script reading themselves. The people at Raimi's company asked me to read those three scripts and provide coverage as a way of seeing my writing style. Well, I loved the script for THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE (it's one of the single best I've ever read) and I really enjoyed CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (it was a better, darker script than finished film but I still enjoyed the film). 20 pages into reading LARS & THE REAL GIRL, I was actively hating it. And 20 minutes into watching the film, I was lamenting that there was still another 90 minutes to go. Not that the actors don't give it their all; there is terrific work on display from Ryan Gosling, Paul Schneider, and Emily Mortimer. It's just that the story, that of a painfully repressed, depressed, and suppressed guy named Lars (Gosling, in a rigorously mannered performance) striking up a "relationship" with an anatomically correct blow-up doll (given the name of Bianca) while living in the garage of his brother's house, seemed artificial from the very begining. Oliver, who must've been aiming for a blend of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE-styled idiosyncracies along with the sweetness of a Capra film, never finds an honest tone in which to work. Lars is clearly mentally deranged, and sadly, the entire town he lives in comes off that way too, as they all accept Bianca as a real person and go along with Lars's wishes as a way of accepting him and making him feel comfortable. Aww. A'int that sweet. Delude the mentally damaged guy even further. I know, I know, it's not supposed to be real, it's supposed to be funny. Well, the problem is that it's not funny enough, and what does pass as funny, stems from the performances rather than the writing. There's a half-hearted romantic subplot for Lars with one of his co-workers but it never goes anywhere remotely interesting or surprising. Oliver's perverse blow-up doll set-up never picks up any sexual traction either, as Lars refuses (out of religious beliefs) not to sleep in the same bed with his new companion. Instead, this creepy film carries a strange, off-putting vibe that is the exact opposite of whimsical, which is what I think Oliver had intended. Not helping matters is Gillespie's sloppy directorial style. His confused direction shuffles back and forth between a phony Wes Anderson impersonation and edgy, hand-held camera, indie-inspired aesthetic (just because king of hand-held camera Peter Berg was one of the 10 executive producers doesn't mean you should half-assedly rip off his shooting style). You either go with it all the way or don't try it at all. True, there are a few nice compositions of wintry middle America and again, Gosling's performance is indeed very watchable. But when you can't accept the specific reality set up by the filmmakers it's virtually impossible to enjoy what you're watching. Some people really, really loved this film (it stands at Rottentomatoes with a 80% fresh rating) but I can definitely say that I'm not one of them. I guess since I hated the original script I was destined to dislike the final film. I gave it a chance because I am a fan of Gosling and Schneider. The two of them were dependably solid with their performances; everything else around them was a lame joke.

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