Last night at dinner Terry was telling me about the waning days of the school year, and the inroom celebrations that are part of the rituals of closure marking the week before finals and graduation. Honestly, I don't recall the exact connection between this particular movie and what they were discussing in the classroom, but she put in the movie Lars and the Real Girl for the kids, provoking by the end of class a parting of the Red Sea of personality types: those who are able to surrender to the world of fictional truth, and those who are not. I'm sure it's a tender and, to some extent, revealing moment.
Yesterday being Thursday, I was looking for some "throwback" material to post on Facebook, and saw some stuff I'd written back in 2008 about movies we had seen that year that were Oscar contenders. The two that stood out for me (and I'm sort of a movie weird-o in the flicks I like, and at the same time fairly omnivorous in what I'm willing to watch), were Lars and the Real Girl and Juno. After having this random conversation at the table, I thought, what the heck—it's my blog, after all—I'd put my thoughts out there. Here we go...
"Pretty much everyone had seen Juno by the time Terry and I got around to seeing it, we may in fact have been the last people on the planet to have seen it, but as someone said (maybe Claire, my daughter the writer), the script was sparkling, and raised teenspeak to the level of art. The writing on both of these movies was Oscar-nominated, and Juno won the award. Some have faulted Juno as too facile a moral tale, with its handling of teen pregnancy, abortion, and surrogate motherhood, but the movie presents multivalent emotions and complex motivations among its several lead characters, and never manipulates us or takes us down any expected path. In fact, one of the outstanding things about these two movies and the picture Once, which I will mention below, is their originality. We are so conditioned to expect characters to act as though they are poster children for some particular political point-of-view that these three films burst out of the pack by surprising us with their simple humanity.
"Lars and the Real Girl is essentially about what it means to be “real,” and as a tale of community and humanity at its best, this movie really took the cake for me this year. It would be worth watching by church groups and families just for the sake of the discussions that might ensue about what really matters in families and communities. I wrote on one of my internet news groups after seeing it that it was the first time I had heard the phrase “what would Jesus do?” in my life when I didn’t want to barf, because it came out as both true and funny at the same time, as though the answer were, “Who knows?,” only all the other options seemed to fall away, even though they seemed “saner” and more grounded in reality. The performances across the board in this movie are gratifying, of course both Ryan Gosling as Lars and his sister-in-law Emily Mortimer are wonderful, but the supporting performances by both Paul Schneider as his brother, Kelli Garner as the co-worker with her eye on Lars, and neighbor Nancy Beatty as Mrs. Gruner bring both ambivalence and naked humanity to life in this Minnesota town, as though Lake Wobegon were meeting Le Roi des Coeurs. All of this is largely because of the compassionate script by Nancy Oliver, who wrote several episodes of HBO’s quirky but engaging soap Six Feet Under. If you don’t see any of the big splashy movies from last year, do not miss Lars and the Real Girl, nor Juno, nor Once.
"Once is the last movie I want to say something about. Aside from the strange weave with reality that its story portrays (the two main characters are both a musical and romantic team), the script again takes us places we’re not accustomed to being taken in motion pictures, and nothing that happens in this little movie is predictable. Not that much happens. But in this character study of an Irish street musician and a Czech flower seller and domestic worker, as they work out their relationship around music, we’re constantly surprised by their restraint and truth to themselves and mutual respect. The music wasn’t always my cup of tea, but there’s originality and immediacy to it, and the energy of their art is infectious and is woven well into the narrative. Maybe I’m just so happily refreshed by not being led around by the emotional nose by a movie, manipulated into feeling this or that, that I want to shout from the rooftops about these three little movies that it’s actually possible to make a thoughtful, moral movie without spending millions of dollars. It seems possible at least to be entertained and edified by words and drama without the distraction of special effects and bloodletting, as cathartic as they may be in this day and age. There’s no catharsis like truth and compassion, and these three movies have that in abundance. My advice to you is, don’t miss them."
Well, that's what I thought in 2008, anyway. Of the three, Lars is the only one I have watched again since then, so maybe it's time to keep my eyes open for a rerun on cable. I feel sure, after Terry's description of her own joy at seeing it again, that I won't be disappointed.