Stranger Than Fiction (2006) Review

Stranger Than Fiction (2006) Review 1
Stranger Than Fiction (2006) Review
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Director(s): Marc Forster
Actor(s): Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman
Running Time: 113 min
CGM Editors Choice
| November 10, 2006

This is the story of Harold Crick, a man so immersed in the daily drudgery of his routine he could easily be mistaken for a robot if it weren’t for the fact that actual robots, like Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons, show more signs of life. Harold, as played by Will Ferrell, suddenly sees his routine shaken up when he begins hearing an ethereal voice narrating his life, right down to the way he counts brush strokes as he brushes his teeth. What happens next is a funny and touching story about how Harold learns to live, even as the narrator plots his untimely demise.

The “voice” is author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a writer who specializes in creating poignant tales of tragic death involving well-meaning heroes. Eiffel is experiencing writer’s block as she tries to figure out the best way to kill Harold; shall it be a plunge off a building or driving off a bridge in a rain storm? Harold, meanwhile, knowing his death is imminent consults a literature theory professor (Dustin Hoffman) who helps him decipher recent events as to whether Harold is living in a tragedy or a comedy and when he might possibly die.

Stranger Than Fiction has a humourous, yet emotional pull—thanks to director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) and screenwriter Zach Helm. In the wrong hands this could have easily been gimmicky and farcical, but Forster treats the material with a genuine hand. Forster and Helm also manage to find a creative but obvious way of getting around the ending without making it seem like a cop-out. For that matter nothing comes simple in this movie; for example, Harold may be an employee of the IRS but the most-hated government agency in the US is hardly portrayed as the boogeyman it usually is. Also, the film is as much about the act of writing as it is about one man’s life that just happens to be being written about.

Harold’s fate leads to some interesting questions about fiction versus reality. I remember a quote from a writer who said the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. That thought occurred to me while watching the movie’s finale, but don’t get me wrong because this movie isn’t all English-class head games. Hoffman’s character is arguably the most interesting; the scenes where he analyzes Harold’s life using literary motifs and archetypes are some of the funnier ones in the film.

Helping the story along is a collection of tremendously understated performances, especially from Will Ferrell, who is easily doing his best work outside anything involving screaming, streaking, or anything that makes him look like a doofus. Ferrell’s Harold is sweet, benign, and self-conscious. Seeing him fumble his way through a romance with baker Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is one of the more charming onscreen romances I’ve seen in a long time, even if the thing that brings them together is an audit. In the back of your mind you’re always waiting for the moment where Ferrell descends into some kind of Ricky Bobby/Ron Burgundy-type madness, but to Ferrell’s credit he keeps it straight all the way through. Like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show or Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, Ferrell has found his next level.

Final Thoughts
REVIEW SCORE

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