Like Frank Capra's George Bailey, Nancy Oliver's new film Lars and the Real Girl (rated PG-13 for sex-related content) presents the story of a sweet, small town man saved by the affection of his friends and neighbors. But Oliver has tempered this message by having her lead character find redemption not through an angel who gets his wings, but through a blowup doll.
Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) is an introverted 27-year-old whose inability to cope with life inspires a delusion that his newly purchased, anatomically correct blowup doll is the real, live girl of his dreams. His antisocial tics begin to melt away as soon as he introduces her to his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), and Gus' wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer). The couple, encouraged by doctor and psychologist Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), decide to indulge his fantasy and convince their friends and acquaintances to play along as well.
Lars is an unstable young man with anti-social tendencies, but watching the sweet way that he treats Bianca, the townspeople shift from overlooking the 120-pound sex doll in the room to welcoming her as a new addition.
The empathetic innocence Gosling brings to his performance leapfrogs over the unseemly premise of a man and his sex toy, but it's still hard to embrace the belief that affection should trump intervention in delicate situations. Somewhere between tolerating a friend's eccentricities and attending a funeral for a sex doll, acceptance turns pathological.