‘Lars and The Real Girl’ on Amazon Prime and Hulu

Ryan Gosling and friend in 'Lars and the Real Girl,' directed by Craig Gillespie.

Lars and The Real Girl (2007) – Ryan Gosling is Lars, a shy, possibly borderline autistic child-man who mail-orders a fiancée and introduces the anatomically correct love doll as his living, breathing girlfriend. His brother (Paul Schneider) is speechless, his worried sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) understandably concerned, and the doting community plays along with an unflagging enthusiasm. For the sake of therapy, of course.

For a premise with such lurid possibilities, Lars and the Real Girl is actually a sweet little comedy of romantic delusion and communal affection, as easygoing and warmly innocuous as the benign irony of the title. Gosling plays skittish Lars with a sheepish little boy smile and darting eyes afraid to make contact with anyone. Think David Arquette re-imagined by Garrison Keillor and dropped in the middle of the eccentric heartland of modern cinema’s idea of rural Midwest America. Social interaction is a torment and the smiles of his cute coworker Margo (Kelli Garner) sends him fleeing in a panic.

It’s all set against a backdrop of inevitable sight gags and director Craig Gillespie isn’t one to turn down an easy laugh, but he’s careful to keep them genial. There’s not a nasty crack in the film and Gosling’s guileless innocence convinces you that this nice, church-going boy is the most respectful of gentlemanly suitors when it comes to his mail-order fiancée.

All the warmth and acceptance of the concerned community helps distract from the creaky cinema psychiatry. There’s few demands put on the audience and little suspense as to where it’s all going, but Gillespie’s light touch and affectionate direction makes it easy comic therapy.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.