Lars and the Real Girl was a breakout hit -- especially surprising given the offbeat and potentially perverse storyline, which figured to shrink an already small indie film audience. But even as it was loved by many viewers, Craig Gillespie's film polarized critics, some of whom found only artifice and preciousness in the film's small-town, snow-covered eccentricities. All audiences should agree it has issues in the credibility department -- either intentional, in the form of magic realism, or unintentional, by way of misbegotten plotting. There's an inescapable manufactured quality to the scenario: a shy twentysomething buys a sex doll online, and then treats it as a sentient being with feelings and emotions. Even if you argue that Ryan Gosling's Lars is attributing a flesh-and-blood existence to an object he knows is synthetic, that only calls into question the validity of the film's several emotional (and emotionally manipulative) climaxes. So either Lars is rather seriously mentally disturbed, or he and the rest of the townspeople, who unfailingly support him, are engaged in an elaborate exercise in conscious self-deception. The movie's fans agreed that the ends justify the means, as Lars is allowed to heal according to his own time frame, under the watchful care of a loving extended family. For these fans, this was the very affirmation of life they demand from the movies. Gosling's performance is both sweet and inscrutable, full of tics that are sometimes maddening. It's not his best work, but it may have been his best known at the time -- quite a statement for a film about a boy and his sex doll. Along those lines, it's an indisputably shrewd accomplishment that Lars fought from the fringes of narrative filmmaking into the hearts of the mainstream. The cynics and optimists may never agree on it, but Lars and the Real Girl at least helps its viewers determine which group they belong in.