What is real and what is delusion? Perception and reality are often seen as relative — we make our own reality and truth. If that is true, then what if one’s truth is markedly off from everyone else’s? This question is asked in Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl a film that takes some getting used, but is worth the effort. What initially appears to be a sophomoronic conceit evolves into a deeply poignant and satisfying experience.

Lars (Ryan Gosling) is a shy young man who lives in the garage, while his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and pregnant sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) live in the house. Gus is reluctantly tolerant of his brothers socially inept behavior, due to the guilt he feels over leaving home early when their mother died. Karin, on the other hand, loves Lars fiercely, and continually tries to reach out to him, to no avail.

One day at work, Lars’ creep of a co-worker shows him an Internet Website selling sex dolls. Initially, he is dismissive and scoffs at his friend’s strange fascination with the dolls. After Karin beseaches him again to open up emotionally to her, Lars announces to his family that he has a girlfriend. Thrilled Gus and Karin are soon devastated to be presented to Bianca, a sex doll ordered from the Website. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), a family practioner who just happens to be a pyschologist, as well (this is a tiny town, so you have to double) pretends to treat Bianca, all the while treating Lars, as well.

The first few scenes with Bianca and Lars are definately slapstick. The humor derived from his family’s and friends’ reactions to Lars’ insistence that the doll is real is played for laughs. There is a subtle shift in tone, marked by Gus’ pained expression as Lars fussily bundles Bianca into his car — from there, the Mannequin-like jokiness makes way for a introspective and darker tone.

Gosling, a wonderful actor, does great work as Lars. It’s a joy to watch Gosling who could’ve been relegated to “hot stud” roles, but instead has forged a much more interesting and quirkier career as a character actor. He plays Lars with the utmost sincerity and respect. Schneider also is good, and believably plays the confusion, frustration and despair of a man who thinks his brother is going insane. Mortimer is lovely and matches Gosling. Clarkson as the town’s Yoda has the most thinly-written role, but steals her scenes with her subtle quiet emoting.

Lars and the Real Girl takes a look at a small town and its devotion to one of its members. The townsfolks rally around Lars, and though their shows of support are at times, hard to swallow, it’s their devotion to Lars that makes the film so touching. There is a predictable plot twist toward the end, and the reaction of Lars’ friends is truly moving. Bianca may not have been real, but the love of his friends and the emotion of this movie, definately are.