As if there aren't any men out there so desperately lonely that they might need a companion-receptacle to fill with imaginary musings.
In the DVD's featurettes, actors and producers admit that the Oscar-nominated script by Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under) treads a fine line between real life and fairy tales. So even if it stretches credulity that an entire small town would cooperate in sustaining Lars' delusion, Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Half Nelson) lends realism by embodying the extremes of Lars' character, his reticence and compassion.
In the opening credits sequence, Gosling hides inside his dark garage apartment, even from a family member, peering out at a world that frightens him. Gosling gives Lars a nervous eye-twitch and a tight little smile that's generous and defensive at the same time. He wants to be with people, but he doesn't know how to be around them.
There are things Lars does with flowers and teddy bears that are surprising, funny and disturbed. There's a sequence at a house party, when the community strives hardest to accept Lars' relationship with his girlfriend-out-of-a-box, Bianca. (She's a wheelchair-ridden missionary from Brazil, Lars informs us, so she doesn't speak English very well.) While the host dances with the inflatable girl, director Craig Gillespie cuts to Gosling -- his fists tight in some parody of an old man's dance, his face scrunched in a mix of happiness and pained anxiety.
Gosling gets support from a strong ensemble. As Lars' brother, Paul Schneider's eye-rolling slow burns are among the film's few indications that some folks might be repulsed by Lars' infatuation. Emily Mortimer (Match Point) delivers an screechy-voiced declaration of love, instantly quotable; along with Patricia Clarkson's somber psychologist, she's the film's heart of compassion. Bianca's pretty good too.
No, really: Her clothing, facial expressions and skin tone all change over the course of the movie. Even blow-up dolls have character arcs. (Rated PG-13)