When I saw it at a TIFF pre-screening in August, I was certain that it would take right off.. It was the perfect blend of heart, humor and seriousness. Everyone in the screening I was in seemed teary-eyed at the end. And the sentimentality was so pure and genuine – never forced. Everyone I talked to afterward loved it. But somehow, two months later, its stalling. And who do I blame? No, not Fatty’s recent bad press. Or the wacky premise that some people find too “unique”. But the critics. They aren’t getting it. Sitting at a respectable but underdeserved 69 on Metacritic.com right now, Lars has faced some heartless souls that dragged down his score. How can you give Lars a lower score than such 2007 classics as Live Free or Die Hard (it was good, but come on..)? Reading the reviews have really pissed me off, as I really feel that these people are gonna regret what they are saying years down the line.
Just take a look:
Village Voice / Ella Taylor:
Lars and the Real Girl wobbles in a slow, toneless no-man’s-land between mawkish and schmaltzy while trafficking shamelessly in heartland stereotype.
Toneless? I felt that director Craig Gillipesie and writer Nancy Oliver went out of their way to ensure that a plot that could have drowned in its own high-conception came across as consistent and clear (and somewhat fantastic) on screen. The “heartland stereotype” (in that Lars’ whole town embraces his issues and bends over backwards to ensure his well being) plays into its fabled tone. And even if it wasn’t doing so, is everyone so cyncial to believe that the idea of community and ethicism no longer exists in America’s heartland?
The New York Times Manohla Dargis:
It’s part comedy, part tragedy and 100 percent pure calculation, designed to wring fat tears and coax big laughs and leave us drying our damp, smiling faces as we savor the touching vision of American magnanimity. It holds a flattering mirror up to us that erases every distortion.
Normally someone I agree with and respect, Dargis goes against my own beliefs in the genuine heart of Lars‘ sentiment. And continues to suggest that the error of Lars lies in its portrayal of a kind-hearted community. Does every film really need to display these “distortions”? Lars is a vision, and it is meant to be an idealistic one. Considering its history, I’m surprised people are so offended by cinema’s fantastic elements when they are not being placed in one’s typical idea of fantasy. The following review is even more hinged on this, and I really feel Tobias is just being a lazy critic:
The Onion (A.V. Club) Scott Tobias
In spite of the title, there’s nothing particularly “real” about Lars And The Real Girl, just a couple layers of quirk several stops removed from the world as we know it.
Entertainment Weekly Lisa Schwarzbaum
Really, I think we put up with Lars at all only because Gosling has such an affinity for the wounded boy birds he tends to play that it’s easy to watch him do his thing.
Another usually mutual supporter, Schwarzbaum’s review discredits the fine script and director and miriad of performances (particularly Emily Mortimer) that support Gosling’s “affinity.”
Philadelphia Inquirer Steven Rea
By movie’s end, it seems like the only one giving a truly genuine performance is Bianca.
Rea takes Lisa a step further by suggest that there ARE no geunine performances in Lars. And while I realize that each person might see a film differently, even if you hate most things about Lars, there is no denying its cast’s wholehearted and, yes, genuine performances.
Its a silly and pointless thing to get so worked up about film reviews. Lars is certainly not the first film that someone felt was mistreated by popular criticism. And who am I to step on a high horse and discredit these reviewers, with their years of experience. However, I know who has more clout doing so, and I must admit that he hits on Lars‘ beauty quite perfectly:
Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert
How this all finally works out is deeply satisfying. Only after the movie is over do you realize what a balancing act it was, what risks it took, what rewards it contains. A character says at one point that she has grown to like Bianca. So, heaven help us, have we.
So please, take it from Roger & me. Lars deserves your attention.