It fell considerably short of being great and failed to meet my somewhat realistic expectations for the film.
Ryan Gosling continues his string of deftly nuanced performances with another great turn as a socially stunted young man raised by his withdrawn father following his mother's death while birthing him. He is able to channel a youthful naivete in such an inviting way that it is not much of a reach to imagine a small town bending over backwards to accommodate his break. His ability to carry on one-half of a two-sided argument with himself without losing it left me astonished at times.
Paul Schneider rounds out what has proven to be a great year for him, following up his scene-stealing work as Dick Liddel in The Assassination of Jesse James... by stepping into the shoes of the older brother whose years-past abandonment may or may not have contributed to his brother's delusional disorder. Perhaps this finally marks a time in which he is up for roles he can chew on outside of the David Gordon Green canon, rather than being stuck playing townies in dreck like The Family Stone. Emily Mortimer is strangely captivating--her warmth more and more compelling in everything she does.
Enhancing the performances of the principle cast, the cinematography and score capture the static and isolating winters of the Upper Midwest (even though it was predictably filmed in Ontario, which was personally disappointing for reasons relating to mild homesickness).
Where the film falls short is in its saccharine narrative. The ending is especially sappy, making for a surprisingly family friendly film when the "Real Girl" is an anatomically correct sex doll, but the tugging of the heart-strings feels a little forced. Its real emotion lies in the hearts of its main characters (as was on full display in the apologia between Schneider and Gosling in the basement), and the final act could have probably done without dialogue of any sort for the last two or three scenes and been the better for it, letting the images speak for themselves.