Stranger Than Fiction
- Marc Forster
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Thursday, January 18, 2007
But Stranger Than Fiction is better than those films. Zach Helm’s surprising script doesn’t aspire to be Kaufman, but instead takes a completely implausible premise and uses it as an excuse to explore life-changing possibilities and the trip to achieve self-esteem. Ferrell’s character, Harold Crick, evolves simply but beautifully, and even he doesn’t pay as much attention to his weird situation as he does to his chance to learn from it. I loved that, I simply loved that.
The story has Harold suddenly listening to a voice-over narration of his own life. The narrator is a female British voice, quite a calm and pretty voice that speaks wittier lines than Harold could’ve ever thought of, especially when narrating his own boring life. Harold is an IRS agent who hates his job as much as the people he audits hate him. The woman he’s auditing now is baker Ana Pascal (Gyllenhaal), who deliberately left a percentage of her taxes unpaid as a way of anarchy against some of the government’s use of it.
The narrator, we come to learn, is novelist Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who’s suffering from writer’s block and can’t figure out a way to kill the main character of her new novel: Harold Crick. The publishers send an assistant, Penny Escher (Queen Latifah), to aid her. The closer Kay gets to the ending, however, the more anguished Harold becomes… Or does he? Looking for help, Mr. Crick goes to a Literature erudite and Professor, Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who sees everything, even real life, from a literary point of view. He’s the man who makes Mr. Crick see that if your life is worth writing a book about, death should be the least of your worries.
There’s a point where Miss Eiffel’s novel is praised as masterful, but I could never see why it should be. I think screenwriter Helm probably cheated, never actually thinking about what would’ve made that novel so good, but only making his script successful the way things turned out for Harold, and happily he succeeded. It’s a choice you have to make: either believe that Eiffel is writing a masterpiece, or be aware that such masterpiece doesn’t even exist in Stranger Than Fiction’s fictional world.
Whichever the case, the beauty of the story exists in the humanity of its characters and not in the facts that occur around them. A building nearly demolished by accident is a funny scene and an important one too, but a song suddenly played with a guitar is a much greater event, and that’s because of how it moves the characters involved. I’m so glad Will Ferrell stars in such a profound flick…
The cast is as good as the characters, sometimes even better. The standout all along is Thompson, who took a potentially one-dimensional character and turned it into an anxious-ridden, sometimes inhuman creature. Too bad her performance is almost always limited to her interaction with Queen Latifah, whose character’s purpose is to allow Thompson’s thoughts to be spoken to her, and I must say Latifah didn’t turn it into much more. Hoffman is as good as his character, no more, no less; he doesn’t overplay and he doesn’t underplay, he just does what he has to do. Gyllenhaal is a beauty to behold, truly convincing whether she’s playing sweet or she’s playing tough. And Ferrell is a fine leading man in a profound role that demanded much effort, I’m sure…, way more than it’s allowed to show.
Production design and photography are key players here. Kevin Thompson and Roberto Schaefer, respectively, made the film look pretty all along, with a certain mood for the whole and for every single place. This, along with a bit of visual effects to illustrate Crick’s manias, works like a charm. Loved the Chicago locations, too! And that music, either original by Britt Daniel and Brian Reitzell or in the form of great song selections, is cool! I had heard the piece used in the climatic scene towards the end before… I heard it in that great pantomime theater production of “Slava’s Snowshow”… It’s so beautiful! I wonder what it is.
“This may sound like gibberish to you, but I think I'm in a tragedy.”
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