Lars and the Real Girl screenwriter Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under) has crafted a surprisingly touching and, yes, romantic story about a lonely introvert who discovers an ideal method of self-therapy in the guise of an anatomically correct silicone love doll.
Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) lives in the garage of the snowy Midwest home he grew up in, where his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) inhabit the main house. An office mate at Lars' nondescript day job introduces Lars to a love doll Web site from which he promptly orders "Bianca" and turns her into a delicate wheelchair-ridden girlfriend. Unable to tolerate human contact, Lars can finally interact, through Bianca, with his family and people in his community in ways never before possible.
Patricia Clarkson gives a reliably understated performance as Dr. Dagmar, the psychiatrist who monitors Bianca's health on a weekly basis and who guides Lars on a journey of self-discovery. In fact, eloquent performances from its entire cast support the rhythmically timed movie to render surprising emotional rewards. Lars and the Real Girl is the best independent film of the year.
Meanwhile, oh-so-precious-trust-fund director Wes Anderson (Rushmore) doesn't so much make movies as he assembles a cast to work from slapdash "meta" scripts that result in self-congratulatory hodgepodges of cinematic expression.
Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody have the dubious honor of playing three estranged (and implausible) brothers who go on a soul-searching bitch-fest across India with an unexplained number of goofy matching suitcases. The male bonding occurs largely during a sleeper-car train ride aboard the "Darjeeling Limited" where the brothers' individual quirks come into high relief.
The youngest brother, Francis (Wilson), wears a fresh bandage on his head and face to cover self-inflicted wounds he earned in a motorcycle crash. Peter (Brody) struggles with the fact of his absent wife's unwanted pregnancy, while eldest brother, Jack (Schwartzman), quells his obsession over a former girlfriend by indulging in spontaneous sex with a train stewardess (Amara Karan). The film's over-pronounced theme of "healing" is put through so many artificial plot points that there isn't any narrative oxygen to support it.
The Darjeeling Limited is a dud where even its attempts at slapstick comedy fall flat. Lars and the Real Girl grade: A-; The Darjeeling Limited grade: C-