Titular "hero" Lars Lindstrom (Gosling) is a socially awkward stiff living in a detached garage apartment across from older brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Gus' perkily pregnant wife Karin (Emily Mortimer).
Karin is anxious to welcome her bachelor brother-in-law into the fold, perpetually throwing out breakfast invites and the like. It's a banner day for all when Lars announces he's dating and bringing his new gal pal to dinner.
No one sees this one coming: Lars' squeeze is an anatomically correct silicone sex doll named Bianca who, according to Lars, is a crippled half-Brazilian missionary from the tropics who was raised by nuns.
Gus and Karin go with the flow and at first opportunity nip Lars off to the local MD (who doubles as a shrink in this snowy Midwestern burg). Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) informs them that Lars is working something out and asks them to play along with his delusion.
And play along they do, together with the whole blessed town, which takes Bianca into their homes and their hearts by dragging her to socials, treating her to spa days, and electing her to the local school board.
As Lars, the community, and we learn to love and respect Bianca, humor turns to sorrow. Lars continues to meet the good doctor, who subtly peels back layers of psychological wounds to get to the root of Lars' neuroses (he recoils from touch) and tinker with his issues. Lars' measured reconciliation with his own emotional baggage is perfectly and profoundly poignant.
Dramedy is a tricky business; it's not easy striking the right balance of laughter and tears, especially when your heroine is a life-sized synthetic siren. Director Craig Gillespie gets it right, guiding his actors with a deft touch and choosing plausible pathos over lewd laughs or cloying comedy. Nancy Oliver's scripting is smart and snappy.
Gosling and Schneider are spot on as brothers coming to terms with their own roles in a shared past. Mortimer is a dream: sweet, sensitive and charmingly astute. Clarkson plays it smart as the voice of reason, and Kelli Garner is marvelously daft as Lars' desperately flirtatious co-worker who yearns for more than standard water-cooler stuff. Kudos to costumer Gerri Gillan for going all out with an unsightly parade of Midwestern woolery in the form of fashionably unfortunate argyle and Fair Isle sweaters.
Tender, thoughtful and distinctive.