STRANGER THAN FICTION
****1/2 (out of 5)
November 10, 2006
Will Ferrell as HAROLD CRICK
Emma Thompson as KAY EIFFEL
Maggie Gyllenhaal as ANA PASCAL
Queen Latifah as PANNY ESCHER
Dustin Hoffman as PROFESSOR JULES HILBERT
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Marc Forster
BY KEVIN CARR
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Who hasn’t imagined that they’re a main character in a book or movie? We all have, haven’t we? Maybe for those of us with larger egos (like me, a pretentious film critic), we think this more often. After all, haven’t we played some music on our portable CD player or MP3 device, imagining that this is the soundtrack of our lives?
Perhaps it is this manic egocentric nature of my personality that made me fall in love with the film “Stranger Than Fiction.” This film tells the story of a humdrum IRS auditor named Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) who lives a very humdrum life. As he goes about his humdrum day, he starts to hear the soft, friendly voice of Emma Thompson narrating his life.
Worried that he is going crazy, Crick tries to find an answer to the voice in his head. A psychiatrist tells him he may have schizophrenia, but he refuses to believe it. He actually realizes that he has a narrator of his life, and he gets even more concerned when the narrator announces that he’s facing his imminent death.
It turns out that a writer named Kay Eiffel (Thompson) is writing a book with Crick as her main character. She doesn’t realize that he’s a real person, and she seems unaware that he is aware of her as his narrator. Through her book, Eiffel affects specific changes in Crick, making him appreciate his life, shrug off his humdrum existence and fall in love with a young woman he is auditing.
Ferrell has thrown his hat into the dramatic ring several times before, an example being the substandard Woody Allen dramady “Melinda & Melinda.” However, his previous dramatic attempts have never quite struck solid ground. His appearance in “Stranger Than Fiction” finally gives him that ground.
The reason this film works for Ferrell is the same reason the film works as a whole. It is a film of opposites that blend together perfectly. On one hand, it’s a light comedy. It’s not a laugh-out-loud comedy like something you’d get from the Broken Lizard team. Rather, it’s a sophisticated comedy. But it’s still a comedy, which is where Ferrell’s strengths lie.
However, it’s also quite dramatic. The movie deals with the heavier themes of love, death and taxes. Similarly, it gives Ferrell a chance to actually act within the structure of the film itself. Of course, he goes into this with plenty of support. Excellent performances bolster Ferrell, including appearances by Dustin Hoffman as an advising literature professor, Maggie Gyllenhaal as his quirky love interest and Queen Latifah as Eiffel’s publisher-imposed assistant.
Another example of an excellent blend of opposites is the nature of the plot itself. On one hand, it’s complete fantasy. The idea of a writer narrating the life of a man is completely unbelievable – something you might see in some corny teenage flick from the 80s. However, it works perfectly in the realistic setting of the movie. I bought the concept without question, most likely because I can relate to someone feeling they are the main character of a book.
A lot of these structural, thematic and tone elements of “Stranger Than Fiction” goes to the director, Marc Forster. He uses a steady hand to present a story that is utterly impossible yet strangely familiar. Under his direction, Ferrell provides the audience with a level of sympathy that is stronger than much of his previous work.
Ultimately, “Stranger Than Fiction” is a warm-hearted, light comedy. Unlike the more artsy, independent films with a darker, seedier flavor, this film has a real warmth to it. It’s not common to find an artsy film that fits in the category of “feel-good” film, but “Stranger Than Fiction” definitely hits the mark.