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Girl power: two women redefine the role of outcast companions: one fat and one fake.

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EARLY ON IN Lars and the Real Girl, the emotionally stunted Lars (Ryan Gosling) tells his brother and sister-in-law that he's planning to bring a date over for dinner. The news sends Gus and Karin into an excited frenzy--after all, Lars has been single for so long that speculation about his sexuality has turned into a sport for their small town. However, when Lars introduces his family members to Bianca, a life-size sex doll that Lars is determined to tote around like a real person, they start to freak out. "What will people think?" asks Gus. Then comes Karin's reply: "We can't worry about that."

That's the moment that Lars and the Real Girl turns into a most unlikely movie: a coming-out allegory for the PFLAG crowd. Lars himself is something of a mentally handicapped enigma, so writer Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under) spends more time chronicling the effect that Lars's unexpected relationship has on his family, coworkers, and fellow townspeople. Some laugh at Lars behind his back--especially when he dares to bring Bianca to a coworker's party--but most people are willing to play along. He may be in a relationship they don't quite understand, but he's still their Lars.

In its own way, then, Lars and the Real Girl functions as a modern-day Harvey, the 1950 classic in which Jimmy Stewart presents an invisible six-foot rabbit as his close companion. Changing mores may have allowed that big bunny to be recast as an O-faced sex doll, but director Craig Gillespie still aims for a Capra-esque tone, aided by delicate performances from Gosling, Emily Mortimer as his worried sister-in-law, and Six Feet Under alum Patricia Clarkson as Lars's soothing therapist. The premise sounds like Rick Santorum's worst nightmare (a world in which gay marriage could open the floodgates for "I now pronounce you man and doll") but only because it dares to illustrate the concept that is anathema to social conservatives: tolerance.

It's a concept equally foreign to the characters of Fat Girls, where high school outsiders Rodney and Sabrina are treated with such contempt by their Texas small-town peers that they greet every situation with preemptive, deep-rooted hostility. Even though Sabrina is the only one of the pair who could be called full-figured, to queer Rodney, they're both "fat girls" under the skin. As he explains it in his opening voice-over, "You don't have to be fat to be a fat girl. You don't even have to be a girl.... It's more like a state of mind."

That's a smart idea to begin a film on, but writer-director-star Ash Christian (who made Fat Girls when he was only 20 years old) too often neglects it to wade through more juvenile waters. Is Rodney a clever, perceptive artist who can run intellectual rings around his classmates or a mouth-breathing Napoleon Dynamite--style dimwit who's easily taken in by bullies? Depending on the joke Christian needs to set up, he's either, and that narrative whiplash stymies most attempts to relate to the character. There's also not much of a plot here. Rodney and Sabrina are never engaged enough in their surroundings to be truly tested by them, and Christian defuses every potential conflict before it even gets started. The abrupt ending, which skips ahead in time and pairs Rodney with the film's most unexpected character, makes you wonder why all the interesting things are happening to these people off-screen.

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Still, though Christian's presentation owes plenty to the films of John Waters and Sordid Lives, his young age occasionally provides the film with talking points all its own. Other characters might be troubled by Rodney's homosexuality, but Rodney isn't; he's just shocked they've caught on ("I thought I was butch!" he tells a supportive drama teacher played by Tarnation's Jonathan Caouette). The film's best scene sends Rodney to a gay bar for the first time, and for this under-age boy whose knowledge of homosexuality is limited almost exclusively to porn, the experience is a revelation. For anyone who ever felt like they were the only gay person in the world, it will be hard not to relate: a fat girl used to famine finally stumbling upon a feast.

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL

DIRECTED BY Craig Ginespie

STARRING Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer

MGM

FAT GIRLS

DIRECTED BY Ash Christian

STARRING Ash Christian and Ashley Fink

HERE FILMS
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Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Buchanan, Kyle
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Nov 6, 2007
Words:729
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