Lars (Ryan Gosling), a guileless, socially awkward young man in a small Midwestern town, purchases a lifelike sex doll from a Website, makes her his girlfriend, and names her Bianca (“she’s Brazilian and part-Danish,” he explains). His brother Gus (Paul Schneider), who lives next door, is baffled. His brother’s wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) is both tolerant and bemused. The town is briefly aghast.
Gradually, though, both family and town — with help from psychologist Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) — accept that Lars is on a strange road route to self-repair. Even officemate Margo (Kelli Garner), who has a crush on Lars, gets it and plays along.
Director Craig Gillespie has made an exceptional little picture about delusion, empathy, and the outer reaches of mourning. It’s a fantasy about fantasy. When Lars’ mother died, his brother left him with his father’s heartbreak. “He was too sad,” says Gus of their father. Canadian Gosling’s taciturn performance flirts with unaffected heartbreak, which is rare on screen. His Lars is allergic to human touch. At times the pace is as tedious as small-town life. But Gillespie (a career TV commercial director) compensates with heart.
Schneider, Mortimer, Garner, and indie ace Clarkson all hit their markers, but Gosling is the fragile standard-bearer.