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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Stranger Than Fiction

MOVIE REVIEWS

STRANGER THAN FICTION  (2006)

Starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, Linda Hunt, Tony Hale, Tom Hulce, Kristen Chenowith, Christian Stolte and Celeste Pechous.

Screenplay by Zach Helm.

Directed by Mark Forster.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures.  113 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

 

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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 vs. art.

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 the floor.

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 to her.

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 Huckabees. 

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)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 22, 2006.

 

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Copyright 2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 22, 2006.