How painful to watch Ryan Gosling, one of the most elastic actors of his generation, smirk and gawp and grimace his way through Craig Gillespie's smarmy little number about a pudgy Midwestern office drudge so terrified of human contact that the only, um, person he can bond with is a mail-order Brazilian sex doll. Lurking within the high concept is a triggering trauma so wasting (and banal) that it takes not only loving relatives (Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer) but a whole village of empathic Scandinavian stoics to sort him out, steered by a therapist played by Patricia Clarkson, giving her dry best to hoary old bromides such as "It's not a mental illness; it's a form of communication." In fact, as Six Feet Under writer Nancy Oliver ought to know, barking mad might have made a movie. Instead, Lars and the Real Girl wobbles in a slow, toneless no-man's-land between mawkish and schmaltzy while trafficking shamelessly in heartland stereotypes: Strapping older ladies trudge through glumly shot wintry slush to knit around the fireplace while Lars plods obediently through the stages of grief. Gillespie has been roundly panned for Mr. Woodcock, but the positive buzz coagulating around this pandering rubbish may yet launch him on a glittering career of studio-indie pap.
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