THE BLOG
10/20/2007 11:06 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Norman Bates and the Real Girl

Last night I happened to see Lars and the Real Girl, which engaged and delighted me in a completely unintentional way. The supporting cast -- the adorable Emily Mortimer and Kelli Garner; the great Paul Schneider; the charming-even-when-miscast Patricia Clarkson -- is perfect, but the movie's premise just seems so fascinatingly miscalculated. I felt (although in fairness the friend I saw it with disagreed; she saw it as magic realism) that it was the newest entry in a small subgenre of recent movies: the Endearing Potential Serial Killer Comedy.

The only other entry in this subgenre is The 40 Year Old Virgin. I laughed about one and a half times when I watched The 40 Year Old Virgin... the jokes seemed lame and forced and the writing was amateurish, but the big problem was that Steve Carell's character just seemed so fucking creepy. That weird, strained stare... that rabbity way of speaking... those little dolls all over his room. I had the distinct feeling that if he got pushed just far enough, he'd snap and put someone in a crawlspace.

Same with Lars in Lars and the Real Girl. So Lars is so uncomfortable with human contact that he buys a life-size sex doll made of silicon and weighing as much as a real human to be his girlfriend? Okay. And he brings it to dinner and props it up at the table and calmly talks to it as if it's talking back, to the alarm of the other dinner guests? Okay. And everyone in the small town decides to pretend that the doll is a real person, because they love Lars so much and humoring his delusion is therapeutic? And... you've lost me!

Some serious suspension of disbelief would be required for me to accept the idea that the community would be indulgent of Lars's delusion rather than openly scornful and creeped out. I don't buy it that any but the most neglectful mother would let her kid sit on the silicone doll's lap, nor do I accept a teacher would let the doll "read" to her first grade class (a book propped in its lap, a tape recorder reading the words). And I certainly don't believe that Lars's sweet, cute coworker (played by Garner) would still have a crush on him after seeing him carrying around, and talking to, a silicone sex doll that he refers to as "my girlfriend."

(It's the more extreme version of the suspension-of-disbelief problem, already written about pretty much everywhere, that plagues a lot of recent comedies. Catherine Keener and Steve Carell in 40 Year Old Virgin? Dimly plausible... but a stretch. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up? Good movie, but no way. Emma Stone and the obese, sociopathic Jonah Hill character in Superbad? NEVER. Judd Apatow, please, no more.)

Anyway. The movie treats Lars (played by Ryan Gosling with a lot of blinking and forehead veins) as if he's just a little shy, but the hilarious thing is that he's clearly insane and dangerous. If you're unhinged enough to believe that a mannequin is actually a human, then you're probably unhinged enough to convince yourself that a human is actually a mannequin. And then what would be the problem with, say, chopping its head off?