The story takes place in a really tiny town, somewhere up north. It centers around Lars, a boy who's socially awkard enough that Id bet even us socially inept MIT-ers would have trouble with him. Behind that his an innocent and darling soul who simply doesnt know how to deal with things in his life that put him outside his incredibly tiny comfort zone. As a defensive coping mechanism, he acquires this life size doll, Bianca, that he believes is his girlfriend.
There's so many ways this premise could have gone wrong: one bad joke too far, one uncommitted cast member, etc. Instead, its quite perfectly executed. The anchor is Ryan Gosling as Lars. He was this close to an Oscar nomination for the role (which Im still a lil bitter about). He just bring such heart to the role, that you cant help absolutely adoring this kid. He's so convincing about his relationship with Bianca that you actually forget that she's not real.
The setting works fantastically well too. Since its a small town, everyone is very sympathetic towards Lars. Before long, the neighbors start including Bianca in their everyday lives, as a way of showing their support. The more they include Bianca, the more Lars starts to allow himself to be included as well.
I find this is one of those films I can discuss for hours. While the premise may seem simplistic enough, there's a lot of substance there. I remember having a discussion with someone about how one of the ladies in town projected her own problems onto Bianca, and tried to bring resolution to Bianca and Lars in that area where she couldnt do it for herself. (Vague, I know. Trust me, it makes sense).
One thing I pride myself on movie wise is being able to aptly recommend films for friends, and choose appropriate selections for movie nights and such. Im always quick to recommend this for people who like lighter more sentimental films that the typical dark fare I tend to go for. A couple years ago, I chose this as an option for Turkey Day with some friends. There were about six of us, and all but one absolutely adored it (I hadnt counted on that one when I picked films). When it finished, we were all having a big discussion over various aspects of the film. As someone is describing the emotional connection between the characters and Bianca, our odd man out gets frustrated and yells out something along the lines of "You guys, it was just a \m/ doll!!!". After glaring at him, we decide we're not gonna convince him otherwise and move on. Later, we're watching a Jeff Dunham special. Dunham, as you may know, is a fan-\m/-taskic ventriloquist. Odd man out makes a comment about how impressed he is with how expressive the puppets our. Without missing a beat, our Thanksgiving feast host responds with "Its just a \m/ doll!!!"
So yeah, I guess on the recommendation front I should say that you definitely need to be open to the premise. Otherwise, it will be lost on you. Im not saying you can't be weirded out by it. It takes some getting used to, and the supporting characters kinda go thru that journey with you. But I will say that its handled rather sensitively on film. I particularly recommend this to those who are partial to good chick flicks (not contrived Katherine Heigl crap).