The indie film landscape of the 2000's is lousy with lovable oddballs, huggable weirdos, cuddly undiagnosed autistic menchildren and pitiable quirk blobs mashed into human form. Manic pixie dreamgirls get all the press, but these goofy, unassuming, frustrating-but-worth-it sad sacks deserve recognition as well, at least in the sense that independent filmmakers need to learn from the mistakes of the past, and realize that watching this character-type bumble around for two hours is about as fun as being forced to sit through an elderly co-worker's daily barrage of abysmal dad jokes. And allowing them to perform the aforementioned bumbling for two hours of plot-free quirk is even worse, and might, in fact, be criminal. I'm not an attorney, I don't know the law, but I work with attorneys, so I can find out if I need to.
I recently watched two indie quirk-fests featuring two awkward, mumbly weirdos from the 2000's back-to-back for reasons I'm still not entirely sure of, but were probably related to some kind of self-punishment I subconsciously felt I deserved: 2007's Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling with a mustache, and 2002's Dummy, starring Adrien Brody. Both films' protagonists are "charming" oddballs who form an attachment to a human-shaped inanimate object--Lars with a life-sized love doll manufactured specifically to make masturbation a little creepier; and Steven with, well, a dummy--that somehow makes said oddball a better, less awkward person worthy of a female human's love and affection. These non-traditional relationships also make the community in which the oddball and his object of desire exist, a better place, filled with "normal" individuals who have been made better for being forced to accept said oddball's quirkiness. Both films are pretty bad, but great examples of what came to be known, for a time, as the very definition of independent cinema.
Let's start with the better of the two, Lars and the Real Girl, a film I liked and hated in almost equal amounts. It tells the story of a sad, shy weirdo who purchases a realistic sex doll, which he names Bianca and introduces to everybody in town as his girlfriend from Brazil. There is the usual hemming and/or hawing that one would expect when a mustachioed goofball expresses a desire to, say, bring his life-sized sex device to church, but in the end, everyone in town falls in love with Bianca, hiring her to work weekends at the mall or, in the film's most "we-thought-this-would-be-funny-but-oops-it-really-really-is-not-in-fact-it's-gross-and-almost-certainly-criminal" scene, reading to school children. When Bianca eventually dies--that's right, Bianca dies--all the citizens of Quirkville, USA, attend her funeral, in a scene that I initially mistook as poignant, until I remembered that they had just buried a rubber sex doll in a legitimate grave in an actual graveyard surrounded by the remains of people's actual loved ones.
If I were to give Lars and the Real Girl a letter grade, I'd give it a C+; a star rating out of 5, 2-and-a-half stars; and snarky verbal rating, a "meh." The actors are fine, the cinematography is OK and the plot, while nothing I've really seen before but still feels hackneyed somehow, exists, which is more than I can say for other quirky weirdo indies from The Aughts, for example 2002's Dummy. Lars' relationship with Bianca helps him work through some pretty heavy shit, and Lars is a nice guy--even though 20 minutes into the movie, I felt compelled to tweet out to whoever would listen, "Is Lars Lindstrom the biggest asshole in cinematic history?" as I was convinced he had purchased Bianca simply to fuck with people who wouldn't leave him alone about being single and quirky and mustached--so, I fully understand why everybody in his small town plays along. And, honestly, the "+" part of the "C+" is because of Emily Mortimer, who is a delight in everything.
My biggest problem with Lars and the Real Girl? I'll get to that in just a minute, because it is also my major problem with Dummy.
Here are the things I liked about Dummy: 1) The scene where Steven invites Lorena over for a romantic evening, but fails to set the mood when he plays a CD of John Phillip Sousa's greatest marches; and 2) Jessica Walter. That's it.
Now I don't like to come online and bad mouth things like everybody else, but, c'mon, nobody in this movie looks back on Dummy fondly. How could they? You can't tell me that Milla Jovovich is proud of her work in this movie? Her character is awful and unnecessary. And Jared Harris! Wonderful Jared Harris--look what they have you doing!!! And Adrien Brody's Steven makes Lars look like the life of the party. What a sad sack piece of shit.
Look, everyone in Dummy has done vastly better things--I watched Grand Budapest Hotel two weeks ago, and Adrien Brody was great!--so I'm not going to waste my afternoon and your precious reading time actor-bashing. An actor is only as good as his/her words, and the words these fine actors were forced to recite in this thing are shit. This is sub-sitcom nonsense, with way too many characters given their own subplots, when all we really care about is the relationship between Steven and Lorena, played by Vera Farmiga. If you want a plot summary for Dummy, read the Wikipedia page, because I want to talk about Lorena and Margo, the love interests in Dummy and Lars and the Real Girl respectively.
Lorena and Margo do not make sense, and this is why I reject them. This is not a manic pixie dreamgirl situation, but, rather, an awkward, oddball manchild one. In these movies, two quirk-crammed weird-balls turn two perfectly nice and normal females into, I don't know. I guess they don't turn into anything, it's just the fact that they find anything interesting about Steven and Lars at all. Especially Margo. Lars rejects her up until the final scene of the movie, Bianca's unholy funeral, at which time, after Margo gives her condolences on the death of a female-shaped sperm collection device, Lars asks her if she'd like to take a walk.
Lorena's interest in Steven is also troubling, chiefly because she has a young daughter, and Steven is a directionless geek who lives at home with his parents and spends most of his free time hanging out in Target with crazy person who dresses like a 14-year-old girl, but is definitely in her early-30's. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with living with your parents or shopping at Target, I just don't know many woman of Lorena's age, level of employment and emotional maturity that is actively seeking someone like Steven. Hey, I'm what you might consider a weirdo, and I found love and happiness with a wonderful woman, but I was also actively employed, out from under my parents' iron fist and wasn't known around town as "that guy who used to tell everyone a sex doll was his girlfriend." For a weirdo, I'm relatively normal.
In the end, in Lars and the Real Girl, I liked that no one had sex with Bianca. In Dummy, I liked nothing.
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