A lovely novel and film
Posted on August 23, 2009
Two new additions to my “recommended” lists for books and movies:
Richard Russo’s The Straight Man, a novel situated in academia and hilariously (and sometimes too painfully close to home) relevant for all of us whose careers are in higher education. For those in our fifties, the middle age struggles of the hero hit closer to home still. It’s funny and almost absurdest at times, but the novel also tackles big life questions such as the pain of missed opportunities, unrealized potential, family life and relationships, and aging. The serious, almost melancholy, counterpoint to the laugh aloud humor gives the novel heft and substance. I found myself reading passages aloud to Pat and thinking about the big questions long after putting it down.
A very similar balance of the comic and the poignant exists in a charming little movie, Lars and the Real Girl. This is a quirky, funny little film that centers on a painfully shy and withdrawn guy in a small town and all that ensues when he falls in love with a sex doll. I know, it sounds sketchy, but the movie doesn’t have a moment of tawdriness or camp — it’s played straight with sympathy and honesty. The townspeople come to accept Bianca (the doll) and all that follows is charming and uplifting and makes you wish the world could be so generously big hearted. It reminded me of those odd, lovely British films by Bill Forsyth (Gregory’s Girl, Local Hero, Comfort and Joy) or movies like Waking Ned Devine or The Full Monty. These are movies that are funny, but grounded in real life and are compassionate, especially to their oddest “outsider” characters. Stop right here if you don’t want a plot spoiling tidbit: when we found ourselves getting teary at the “death” of Bianca, the sex doll, we knew the movie had us hook, line, and sinker.
Both the novel and film have been around a bit and never received a lot of attention. I recommend both.