Stranger Than Fiction
Who would have thought?
Will Ferrell can actually act. Really, seriously do dramatic scenes,
create a complex character, not get blown out on an even playing field with
real live thespians Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Credit where it is due, Ferrell, who I have almost always found
excruciatingly annoying (he was also good in Elf, but it certainly
wasn't nearly as complex a character and I hear he was impressive in
Melinda and Melinda). Here, he actually does an extremely competent, subtle (which
is amazing considering his previous work) and strangely touching job of
anchoring this charming and more-than-slightly surreal meditation on life
Farrell plays Harold Crick,
an emotionally stunted and just slightly obsessive compulsive IRS agent.
His life is completely mapped out. Every day he brushes his teeth with
the same amount of strokes, grabs an apple, walks to the bus (using the
exact amount of steps each time), getting to the bus stop at exactly 8:17,
and riding to work. He counts the stairs he climbs and the tiles on
His life is thrown totally
out of whack when two completely unexpected things happen to Harold.
One is somewhat expected, he is sent to audit a free-spirited, tattooed,
highly offbeat baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and finds himself strangely drawn
The other event could not
be expected at all. He starts hearing a voice, a British woman who
seems to know all about him and his life and speaks of it in fluid, artistic
prose. Crick at first is sure he is losing his mind, but as the
narrator starts knowing things before they happen, it eventually occurs on
him that she is his narrator. This brings out a whole new level of
complication to his life; if he has a narrator, does that mean that he is
merely a character in someone else's story?
When psychiatrists bring
him no closer to the answer, Crick makes the clever decision to contact a
literature professor, Dr. Jules Hilbert. Dustin Hoffman steals the
movie in the character -- wonderfully capturing what was completely missed
in his role in last year's convoluted-but-similar I ©
At first Hilbert blows
Crick off, but eventually he buys into the man's predicament and decides to
help. The first order of business is to decide if Crick's life is a
comedy or a tragedy -- a question which quite literally is life or death to
Crick, because as Hilbert points out, in a comedy it will end up with him in
love, in a tragedy it will end with him dead. Hilbert tries putting together a list of authors who might be
writing Harold's story, but it is just by chance that they figure out that
she is Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a chain-smoking, writer's-blocked wreck
of an auteur who is famous for her books ending with the highly symbolic
demises of her heroes.
Of course, this brings up
an existential crisis; if you are living a life of boredom and routine, is
it worth giving up your life to contribute to a great piece of art?
Also, does the author have the right to snuff out a character for a perfect
ending once the character becomes real to her?
If Stranger Than Fiction
sounds a bit like a more commercially viable version of a Charlie
Kauffman cult movie like Adaptation., Being John Malkovich or
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that is probably a valid
criticism. However, that should not necessarily be a negative.
Taking that kind of whimsy and making it more palatable to a general
audience means it will likely get a slightly existential idea to the people
who would never see those "arty" films.
Stranger Than Fiction is smart and funny and literate. The
world needs more movies like it. (11/06)
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Posted: October 22, 2006.