Usually, heavy drama and inspirational fare are mixed into hard-hitting or heart-sagging packages. But sometimes, the tough-to-swallow is mixed with comedy -- not in a way where the funny is the only thing that matters, but in a way that helps move the story and keep you out of that moviegoer depression. When done right, it can be a really enjoyable experience -- one that makes you think, feel, and laugh.

Now, I'm cheating a little bit for this double feature. One of the films just came out on DVD this week, but the other doesn't come out until Tuesday (Double Feature of the Future!). But having received both screeners, and having them sitting here on the desk, looking at me, I couldn't help but use them because they go so well together. Both contain some pretty dramatic moments, but the drama is couched in levity. I present: Music Within and Lars and the Real Girl -- two films that embrace the marriage of comedy and drama, as well as people who get past their own fears and offer help to others.

Music Within




This film is by no means perfect. In fact, it's noticeably flawed. However, it's got a lot of humor and a lot of heart, mainly due to the performances of Ron Livingston and Michael Sheen, which makes it a joy to watch. Music Within is the true story of Richard Pimentel -- a natural and talented public speaker who can only rely on himself -- his father died when he was young, and his mother (Rebecca De Mornay) was more obsessed with her miscarried children and her inner turmoil than the one who survived. Richard works hard to make it on his own, and ends up serving in Vietnam when a college hope falls through. He's injured, loses his hearing, and finally finds his passion in helping people with disabilities.

But it's not so much his work that fuels the plot, but his friendship to Art Honeyman (Sheen) -- a brilliant young man with cerebral palsy. Richard looks past Art's disability, and their relationship is natural, touching, and wildly funny. Now, although Sheen really hits this performance out of the park, one might question the use of an abled-body person in this role.

Pimentel, however, discussed this casting in an interview and said: "When this thing first came about, I was insistent that people with cerebral palsy be auditioned for the role and, in the case of a dead heat with an non-disabled actor, that the person with cerebral palsy would get the role. ... We bent over backwards to hire someone with cerebral palsy to play Art, but in the end, we had to go back to what I have been preaching all my life: 'People with disabilities, like everyone else, have the right to be considered for every job but, ultimately, everyone has to be hired based on their own ability to do the job. A disability is not inherently a qualification.' In hiring Michael, we just hired the best-qualified person to do the job." As you can see in the trailer and clips below, Sheen definitely gave a stunning performance, one that Pimentel says is incredibly similar to the real man.

* If you have some questions after the film, be sure to check out the deleted scenes, which give a number of details to scenes like Richard beginning to date Christine.

Michael Sheen talks about his current projects, Music Within, and tackling the role.

For comparison, Sheen in Underworld.

Ron Livingston on the movie.


Lars and the Real Girl



Hearing that a new dramedy focuses on a man having a romantic relationship with a Real Doll, mountains of possible lascivious moments come to mind. Yet Lars and the Real Girl is exactly the opposite of what you'd expect. It's not about a man who finds it easier to date plastic dolls that look like women. It's about a man who is so completely terrified of personal human contact that he uses a Real Doll to experience intimacy -- not in a sexual way, but in a personal one. The doll allows Lars to dip into the life of platonic courtship, just as much as it allows Lars to communicate better with his friends and family.

Many have complained that no town would come together to help Lars like they have, but does it matter? Do we chide a film where everyone does the "hero clap" (I, for one, have never seen one in real life.), or any other grand gesture? It might not be a realistic occurrence, but it is nice to see, and is the sort of compassion we should aspire to have.

Lars, a flower, and a cute girl.

The church meeting.

Bowling with Margo, the actual real girl.

TIFF Q&A.