Lars and the Real Girl
I was struck by two thoughts when I watched this film, 1) Alexander Payne would have been the natural choice to direct it and 2) it probably wouldn’t have worked if he had. Lars is a gentle, nostalgic, fluff piece that leaves the messier aspects of a story at the door. Interestingly, it’s also where they probably belong. Shaun has already described the plot in detail in his solid post on the film and I agree wholeheartedly with his comment that the film lends itself to varied interpretations.
Upon reflection, Lars and the Real Girl is structured in a way that makes it almost the inverse of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, a vastly misunderstood movie that is in fact one of Capra's most relentlessly gloomy works. While its framing draws on the backward-looking myth of the small town, the film actually reflects a far more realistic and nasty view of contemporary 1947 America. The opposite is true of Lars and the Real Girl where 60 years later, the corrosive effects of modernization have yet to make an appearance in this small, unnamed American town. It is here where Lars and the Real Girl tips its hand. These wholesomely heart-warming townsfolk make Andy Griffith’s Mayberrites look like drug-dealing scumbags by comparison. This moves the entire story, and it is an interesting one, into the realm of fantasy and I think that’s where it belongs. It doesn’t matter that in any real town in North America, Lars would be ostracized and likely beaten to death by drunken wahoos out on a bender, nor does it take away from the films underlying themes of acceptance and that some people in our society need protection, even if it is from themselves.
While I agree with Shaun that the fetishised objectification of Lars’s fuck doll was clearly representative of our contemporary desire for trinkets and gadgetry, I found the larger story, that of the community’s unlikely reaction to Lars’s fantasy, the more interesting part. I think from that perspective the film works on both levels where it might not have if someone like Payne plumbed the story for it’s more lurid aspects. By keeping it decidedly light, they may have made it more interesting.