Let's hope none of our Republican constituents wanders into the comic drama "Lars and the Real Girl," or we might find love-doll marriage dividing us at the next election. The movie examines a man who buys one to be his girlfriend, falls in love with her and proposes. (The poor guy -- the doll declines.) The premise sounds like fodder for a broad comedy, but though "Lars and the Real Girl" has funny moments, it is more interested in looking at how we imbue things with human qualities and accept people no matter how strange their private lives.
Lars (Ryan Gosling) lives next to his brother (Paul Schneider) and his wife (Emily Mortimer), who worry about his severely reclusive lifestyle. Lars passes the time in his converted garage room when he's not at work or church, where everyone seems to take an interest in his social life. "You need a girlfriend" is the constant refrain. So he gets one, Bianca, an anatomically correct love doll, whom he sees not as a surrogate but as the real thing. He even invents a history for her: Bianca is from another country, needs a wheelchair, and doesn't speak much English. That's not intended to fool anyone. Lars believes in Bianca.
Lars' preoccupation at first surprises others in his Northern hometown. Their gradual acceptance of Bianca would be just as unbelievable, but the movie makes a strong case for it. Don't we all have some inanimate object, be it a teddy bear or action figure, that we adore? Bianca similarly finds her place in the community. The local hair dresser wants to give her a new do. She gets a jobs modeling at a mall clothing store. She volunteers at the children's hospital.
"Lars" succeeds and falters with its ability to show how such a relationship with a doll could develop. Writer Nancy Oliver and director Craig Gillespie had to walk a tightrope to keep the premise the least bit believable, and when concentrating on the social commentary of it, they manage to at least support our suspension of disbelief. The movie only falters when it gets bogged down in the underlying condition of Lars' delusion, but unfortunately this is where it resides for most of the last act. The movie ends trying to explain Bianca away, and ironically, it's the part hardest to believe. (PG-13) 106 min. S