After seeing the new film "Lars and the Real Girl," my wife told me I had to write about it. I wanted to, but I wasn't sure how to get into it without making the film sound like something it definitely is not.

After all, even after reading several reviews before seeing the film, and even with its PG-13 rating, I entered the theater with some trepidation. So now, how can I convey what "Lars" has to offer without prompting trepidation in others?

OK. There's no other way to say it: The film is about a backward social misfit who makes an online purchase of an anatomically correct female doll and then treats it as if it's human.

Yes, as one of the characters in the film says, it's a sex doll — that's what it's for.

But that's not how it's used.

Aside from surprisingly discreet scenes that tell us plainly what the doll is, there is no sex or discussion of sex in the film. (And no foul language that I can remember.)

Lars, played superbly by the wonderful young actor Ryan Gosling, simply wants a companion, but he's too awkward to ask anyone out on a date — much less the girl (Kelli Garner) in the office who obviously has feelings for him.

But as the film unfolds, it becomes clear that Lars also needs to deal with some personal issues, which stem from the death of his mother at his own childbirth, and the resulting relationships with his father and older brother.

When we meet him, Lars is living in the garage of the family home, which is now occupied by his brother (Paul Schneider) and his brother's wife (Emily Mortimer), who are expecting their first child.

It becomes clear over time that this impending birth has dredged up feelings of dread in Lars, who apparently, subconsciously, fears his sister-in-law will suffer a fate similar to his mother's.

But none of that is really what the film is about.

What the film is really about is how a community of small-town churchgoers rallies together to embrace Lars and his new girlfriend "Bianca," for whom he has developed a complicated and detailed backstory (as an immigrant confined to a wheelchair).

It's about how — despite some initial hurdles — the community approaches this in a completely nonjudgmental way and gradually begins to empathize with Lars, seeing Bianca as a real person.

Screenwriter Nancy Oliver and director Craig Gillespie allow us to connect with a wide variety of characters here, and it's surprising how many we get to know.

That includes a most compassionate doctor, the town's family practitioner and licensed psychologist (Patricia Clarkson), whose "treatment" of Lars is slow and careful and quietly professional.

The fact that these people go to church — that attendance is both expected and enjoyed — is a unique element all by itself. But add to that the fact that these are all good people who sincerely desire to do the right thing, and that they genuinely care about each other — and go to extraordinary lengths to help Lars — and it begins to qualify as something we just don't see in movies these days.

On top of all this, "Lars" is funny; sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

Of course, some of it is pure fantasy. Especially toward the wrap-up, which feels a bit protracted. But that's a minor quibble for a film that has this much heart and depth and makes you feel this good.

Favorite scene: A lovely, quiet little moment when Lars helps his co-worker with her teddy bear.

Do you want to see it? Do so.

And without trepidation.


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