American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
How do you make a film about a life-sized love doll, ordered through the Internet, into a life-affirming statement of hope? In "Lars and the Real Girl," you do it with faith in human nature, and with a performance by Ryan Gosling that says things that cannot be said. And you surround him with actors who express the instinctive kindness we show to those we love.
Gosling, who has played neo-Nazis and district attorneys, now plays Lars Lindstrom, a painfully shy young man who can barely stand the touch of another human being. He functions in the world and has an office job, but in the evening, he sits alone in a cabin in the back yard of his family home. His mother died years ago, his depressive father more recently. Now the big house is occupied by his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and pregnant sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer). She makes it her business to invite him to dinner, to share their lives, but he begs off with one lame excuse after another, and sits alone in the dark.
One day a co-worker at the office, surfing Internet porn, shows Lars a life-size vinyl love doll that can be order customized to specifications. A few weeks later, a packing crate is delivered to Lars, and soon his brother and sister-in-law are introduced to the doll. She is, they learn, named Bianca. She is a paraplegic missionary, of Brazilian and Danish blood, and Lars takes her everywhere in a wheelchair. He has an explanation for everything, including why she doesn't talk or eat.
The movie somehow implies without quite saying that, although the doll comes advertised with "orifices," Lars does not use Bianca for sex. No, she is an ideal companion, not least because she can never touch him. With a serenity bordering on the surreal, Lars takes her everywhere, even to church. She is as real as anyone in his life can possibly be, at this point in the development of his social abilities.