Manohla Dargis and the Wannabe Engagées

So what exactly was her problem with Lars and the Real Girl, a beautiful and affecting movie? Apparently it was too far removed “from Iraq, Hillary, Rush and Britney,” and thus it was marred by “American self-nostalgia.” Apparently crippling mental illness that doesn’t take violent or otherwise spectacular forms doesn’t make for adequate “sustained shadows.” For Dargis, this is boring: bring on the whips and chains, I suppose, or the incest, or the undercooked political rants.

But of course decency and compassion for the deeply strange and damaged is rare enough to merit some attention and respect, I’d submit. Funnily enough, if protagonist Lars had been a veteran of the Iraq War (say this was mentioned fleetingly, in hushes tones), my guess is that Dargis would conclude that Lars was a work of surpassing genius.

I was particularly struck by Dargis’s dismissiveness towards Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson, two of the best actors working in movies.

To be sure, I’m an occasional defender of the middlebrow, and I actually agree with Dargis about Amélie: it was bad, and a symptom of a French self-nostalgia far more noxious than anything you’ll find in Lars. Still, I’m peeved. Lars is worth watching, not least for the aforementioned Mortimer.

PS- I’ll also add that Lars features one of my favorite songs of all time, “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads. Clearly I’m biased and can’t be trusted. Sorry, Manohla.