Lars and the Real Girl

The Contenders

Release date: Oct. 12 Distributor: MGM

Any script that prominently involves an anatomically correct sex doll leaves a lot of room for things to get, well, tacky. But “Lars and the Real Girl” deftly skirts any vulgarity and accomplishes poignancy with an edge, and restraint while allowing humor.

Ryan Gosling, an Oscar nominee for last year’s indie sleeper “Half Nelson,” is Lars, a loner office worker who’s recently moved back into his childhood home with his brother and pregnant sister-in-law. Haunted by his mother’s death during childbirth, Lars comes back to life emotionally thanks to his new plastic girlfriend. Teetering on a precarious edge throughout the film, Gosling with his blinking, innocent gaze evokes sympathy rather than outright incredulity — even at the depths of his doll-delusion.

L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan called “Lars” a “Frank Capra-style fable” and “the sweetest, most innocent, most completely enjoyable film around,” while Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal raved it’s an “almost perfect movie with flawless performances.”

Gosling’s perf in particular, as well as Nancy Oliver’s touching script, show the strongest chances for kudo nominations. Solid, generous supporting work by Paul Schneider as Lars’ aghast brother, Emily Mortimer as his concerned sister-in-law, Patricia Clarkson as his incisive therapist, and a dressed-down Kelli Garner as his admiring officemate could have outside chances of being Oscar recognized but are more likely to fall in the Spirit Awards realm. Craig Gillespie’s direction, while carefully calibrated and impressive, could perhaps get lost in a year that boasts brawny and established directors in the race.

The film’s platform rollout, which only crossed the $1 million mark in week three, also could put a damper on its profile in a crowded kudo season populated with plenty of studio pics and A-listers. Then again, “Half Nelson” suffered a similar slow burn but delivered a surprise major nomination in the final analysis.

If voters actually view “Lars” — it was not shown as part of the Academy’s screening series — the indie could be in the running.

See photos, trailer and more on ‘Lars and the Real Girl’

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