LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
*½/**** Image A Sound B Extras D
starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner
screenplay by Nancy Oliver
directed by Craig Gillespie
THE PASSION OF GREG THE BUNNY: THE BEST OF THE FILM PARODIES VOLUME 2
Image B+ Sound B Extras C+
"Fur on the Asphalt," "Wumpus the Monster," "Sockville," "Blue Velveteen," "Plush: Behind the Seams," "Wacky Wednesday," "The Passion of the Easter Bunny: A Fabricated American Movie"
½*/**** Image A- Sound B- Extras D
starring Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith, Stephen O'Donnell, Jennifer Ellison
written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams
by Ian Pugh Beyond its pale stab at indie street cred and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay (which are almost one and the same these days), Lars and the Real Girl shares with Juno an invitation to partake in a never-ending stream of laughs over its premise until it basically flips a switch and instructs you to get emotional over it--the supposed target of discussion here being nothing less than that ever-popular subject of paternalistic revulsion, mental illness. Ryan Gosling turns his "twitchy zombie" knob up to eleven as Lars, a quiet loner living in his brother Gus's (Paul Schneider) backyard shed. After Gus's pregnant wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) expresses concern that her brother-in-law is spending too much time by himself, Lars orders a realistic sex doll named "Bianca" over the Internet and parades it around the neighbourhood as the girlfriend he never had, much to the consternation of Gus, Karin, and Lars's would-be love interest Margo (Kelli Garner), who can only respond with uncertain stares and a lot of hemming and hawing.
Look, I'm all for lacing comedy with awkward silences, because well-timed awkward silences can be hilarious--and all things considered, they have a way of forcing audiences to confront the prejudices they harbour. But Lars and the Real Girl isn't about so much about the exploration of human foibles as it is about Dude's in love with a plastic vagina! Even once we reach the dramatic, "touching" stage of this sideshow, it must be channelled through Bianca for fear of digging too deeply into unpleasant territory: Lars has such severe intimacy issues that he recoils in pain whenever anyone tries to touch him. So, with all the awkward silences out of their system, the locals decide to play along and involve Bianca in community life. And eventually teach Lars how to foster actual relationships with other people, and demonstrate how much they love him, I guess. Strangely, these lessons are imparted in a very cold, distant fashion--and it appears that this didactic recitation is all it takes for Lars to finally come creeping out of his shell. Not to say these lessons can't or shouldn't be learned individually, but it's more than a little odd for a film to argue that it takes a village to cure the crazies given how exceedingly difficult it is to locate many organic relationships therein.
We know when the characters are supposed to feel awkward and when they're trying to be compassionate, but their interactions and developments are so slight that there's barely any indication that anyone outside of Lars's inner circle has much regard for him as a person until the script essentially orders them to pull a 180 and swell with understanding. That's because there's literally nothing to Lars--he's just a vague collection of disorders. It reeks of a certain normie guilt on screenwriter Nancy Oliver's part, something like the conscience-stricken aftermath of laughing at an off-colour retard joke; it has nothing to do with compassion or understanding and everything to do with self-ennoblement. (I very nearly gagged when a knitting circle prodded Lars to appreciate their presence during a third-act tragedy--casually crossing the line between "This is what friends do for each other," and, "Isn't this a great thing that I'm doing for you?") Lars and the Real Girl ultimately paints Lars as nothing more than a fantasy-proxy for mental illness itself, just waiting to have his wires uncrossed by a lot of "caring" folks so they can pat themselves on the back for it.
An indie-doll property of a different sort, vulgar cable-access handsock show-turned-Fox sitcom "Greg the Bunny" was resurrected on IFC as a series of ten-minute interstitials, collected on DVDs known as "The Best of the Film Parodies." Freed from restrictions imposed on him by the necessities of a mainstream audience, creator Dan Milano is finally allowed to reveal how embittered he was by his network experiences--the latest (read: second) volume of the new show presents the IFC pilot, "Fur on the Asphalt," which hilariously recasts the Fox sitcom as a hopelessly compromised, formulaic piece of crap co-starring Clint Howard--and responds by lowering the budget drastically and throwing his felt creations into a new line of work parodying movies. Yet despite all the "fuck"s and "shit"s now at their disposal, everyone involved is still afraid to be too subversive or esoteric; the generic spoofs we see are based more on what the movies in question are than on what they do or say.
A purported Blue Velvet parody concentrates on the very idea of David Lynch's career as one great big indiscernible mindfuck (making detours through Dune, The Elephant Man, and "Twin Peaks"), while a goof on Dogville focuses almost exclusively on that film's chalk-outline backdrop. Suffice it to say, the show is miles funnier on those rare occasions that it actually bothers to delve into the movies it's referencing: in a mash-up of The Passion of the Christ and American Movie (co-starring Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank themselves), Greg decides that he needs a miniature cross with which to star in his own Jesus biopic, but the "current resident"--i.e., the plastic Jesus on the cross--"has to be evicted" first. Really, what else can you say about Mel Gibson and his numbing martyr complex? Unfortunately, those moments are too few and far between the great lengths of tired profanity and easy name-drops. The very fact of them makes you wonder how often Milano and his merry crew can legitimately blame network interference for their woes vs. how often they simply wind up censoring themselves.
The Cottage is itself something of a cinematic mishmash--The Texas Chain Saw Massacre by way of Fargo, attempting to do for those films what Shaun of the Dead did for Romero but only succeeding in offering up yet another dead-end blood-and-guts property for the sick-fuck contingent. David (Andy Serkis) and his snivelling brother Peter (Reece Shearsmith) have kidnapped Tracy (Jennifer Ellison), the daughter of David's mob boss employer, with the aid of her dimwitted stepbrother (Steven O'Donnell)--a plan that predictably goes awry before everyone runs afoul of "The Farmer" (David Legeno), a mutilated Leatherface-lite with the familiar bloody secrets hiding in his basement. If director Paul Andrew Williams tries too hard to apply a familiar sense of dry humour to the proceedings (landing closer to last year's eye-roller Severance than to anything Edgar Wright has ever done), he finds his calling in the fine art of overcompensation: throw enough severed body parts around and scream "fucking cunt" to the rafters as many times as possible and perhaps everyone will forget that you don't have much to say at all.
No doubt in another lame attempt at shock, The Cottage is also needlessly misogynistic, as the women in it have no function beyond the role of one-dimensional ball-breaking shrew: endless references to pussified Peter's nagging "fat pig" of a wife are bandied about while Tracey screams obscenities at the top of her lungs and emasculates our hapless anti-heroes at every turn. Maybe you can take this as minor commentary about how the "normal" characters' excessively-masculinized relationships are no less screwed-up than the Farmer's efforts to play house with his victims (the appearance of the latter forcing the two brothers to mend old wounds), but you have no choice except to abandon such thoughts the moment Tracey's curse-laden diatribes are cut short by a shovel crammed into her mouth--which really has nothing on its mind besides "that oughta shut the bitch up." The only thing preventing The Cottage from being completely irredeemable is a beautifully seething performance from Serkis--further proving himself to be a compulsively watchable actor even when not obscured by a cloud of Jacksonian CGI.
MGM/Fox brings Lars and the Real Girl to DVD in a desaturated 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that emphasizes beiges and flesh tones, highlighting a ruddy humanity better than the film itself does. The attendant DD 5.1 audio serves the picture's dialogue-heavy purpose well enough, with the rear channels used mainly for atmosphere. Meagre yet interminable extras begin with a thirty-second deleted scene entitled "Bathtub" that sees Lars jumping into the tub with Bianca after a date with his human love interest--despite director Craig Gillespie's written introduction, insisting that he did away with it to "go with a clearer emotional journey," it could have probably been slipped into the final product with no one the wiser. "The Real Story of Lars and the Real Girl" (10 mins.) contains interviews with key cast and crew, who to a one, evidently completely convinced of the script's altruism, insist that the movie is about communication and tolerance and affection and other vague terms that apparently don't warrant much elaboration. Gillespie, in particular, sounds like a shitty press release by the sheer number of platitudes he utters. "A Real Leading Lady" (6 mins.) is, without a doubt, one of the most painful experiences of my critical life, for herein most of the interviewees from "The Real Story" treat the film's resident RealDoll as if she were an actress. It's another indication that Lars and the Real Girl is far more interested in the manifestation of Lars's delusions than with the title character himself--and moments in which Gosling "interprets" Bianca's silence with impossible smarm were the final confirmation that I just kind of hate him as an actor. Wrapping things up: the film's theatrical trailer. A block of trailers from the Indie 500--Music Within, Juno, and The Savages--cues up upon insertion of the disc; previews for Death at a Funeral and Bonneville can be found under a separate sub-menu.
Shout! Factory's second volume of Greg the Bunny film parodies, titled "The Passion of Greg the Bunny", boasts a sharp, full-frame, shot-on-DV image (it's a bit too grainy in darker scenes, perhaps, but nothing terribly offensive) along with perfectly acceptable DD 2.0 stereo audio. Milano, writer/director/co-creators Spencer Chinoy and Sean Baker, and puppeteer/puppet wrangler Chris Bergoch head up the chuckle-filled commentaries on each episode. Not a whole lot to learn here beyond a few rounds of trainspotting where certain crew members helped them and where they reference certain movies--although the revelation that IFC essentially hands these guys a list of movies they're allowed to mock certainly says a lot about how much they care about the final product. Mentally-challenged monster The Wumpus describes the "Deleted Scenes" on the Special Features menu as "not good enough to be in anything," and I'm apt to agree. (There are admittedly a few laughs to be had as Count Blah is asked to sing the "public domain" version of "Blue Velvet," meaning to the tune of "Deck the Halls.") "Supper with Friends" (18 mins.) is the uncut version of Warren the Ape's rip-off of "Dinner for Five" (excerpts from which kicked off the plot for "Fur on the Asphalt") featuring Adam Goldberg, Sarah Silverman, Martha Plimpton, and Lou Ferrigno. Warren egotistically attempts to pull calculated anecdotes out of his guests and Goldberg refuses to play along, and although Silverman jumps in with her own oblivious-monster routine, like Plimpton and Ferrigno she's transparently insecure about engaging in the conversation--a feeling essentially confirmed by the attendant commentary from Milano and company.
"Loose Stitching: On the Set of GTB" (8 mins.) is a fairly lame gag reel which primarily demonstrates that the puppeteers remain in character when they screw up. Meanwhile, "Dirty Socks 2: Electric Boogaloo" (3 mins.) reveals that they also make their characters perform lewd acts between takes. (On second thought, maybe it's not so bad that they censor themselves.) Six "Webisodes" delve into the fictional backgrounds and careers of "Greg the Bunny"'s characters; again, a hearty "whatever" is the only response. "Greg the Bunny's Early Days on Public Access" (7 mins.) and the "'Dignity on Ice' Music Video" (2 mins.) are moderately amusing glimpses of the characters before they leapt into the public eye. The former resembles an amateur sampler reel of pleasantly goofy antics with a camera pointed at a few hand puppets, recalling a simpler time before anyone was out to please anyone but themselves. The latter is a half-psychedelic musical number from Warren, Greg, and his seldom-seen cousin Gary that assures you they only want to take you metaphorically higher. A "Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery" (revealing more about the making-of than anything else on this disc) finishes up the supplementals; promos for the first volume of "Greg the Bunny: The Best of the Film Parodies", Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion, and Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story cue up on startup.
Sony brings The Cottage to DVD in an "Unrated" edition. The 16x9-enhanced, 2.35:1 image is appropriately grey and gritty (the near-subliminal ghosting so common to British productions--a PAL artifact?--actually lends it a pretty creepy atmosphere), but the DD 5.1 is disappointingly imbalanced: you spend half the time trying to determine whether you want to understand what the characters are saying or protect your ears for when the soundtrack hits a music sting. Extras are slim pickin's, not that you hear me complaining: a gaggle of wisely-deleted scenes excessively spell out what is only implied in the film--as though The Cottage were anywhere near the concept of subtlety--while a series of "Outtakes" (5 mins.) are nothing more than a reel of your typically skippable flubbed lines. A "Storyboard Gallery" for two scenes reveals that the Farmer was originally supposed to lop off Stacey's head from the neck rather than at the mouth--which, I think, makes the final product that much uglier and needlessly hateful. Upon insertion, the disc reminds you that a digital copy of the film is available for download to your computer, followed shortly by a commercial for Blu-ray and trailers for Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, 88 Minutes, Zombie Strippers, and Outpost. A separate "Previews" menu adds Loch Ness Terror, an April Fool's Day remake, Revolver, Pistol Whipped (good to know that Steven Seagal still makes movies with amazing titles), Cleaner, The Tattooist, and Diamond Dogs to that list. Originally published: July 6, 2008.
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