Life is Often Stranger than Fiction

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Stranger than Fiction
  • IMDB: link

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS agent whose life is structured, scheduled, and numbered.  Nothing ever exciting happens to Harold until he starts to hear the voice.  Out of the blue Harold begins to hear a woman’s voice narrating his everyday actions, with extreme accuracy, an eye for detail, a knowledge of the future, and, as Harold puts it, a better vocabulary.

Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is a famous author of tragedies where good men and women meet grisly fates.  She is struggling with her new book.  The publishers have sent her an assistant (Queen Latifah) in hopes of ending her writer’s block and getting her book in before the deadline.

Kay’s major obstacle is she doesn’t know how to kill her main character – Harold Crick.

The bizarreness of the story is terrific as it isn’t attempted to be dissected or given a simple explanation (dream, etc.).  Harold Crick is real, yet his actions and his destiny lie in the hands of a Englishwoman with a typewriter.

Fans of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation will find here a world of similiar imaginings.  Of those films however this stands out as the best.

There are some wonderful scenes, but before I get to those let me address the supporting cast.  There’s the anarchistic baker, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhall), who doesn’t pay her taxes and gets an audit by Harold, which awakens yearnings in the IRS agent he didn’t, but the narrator did, know he had.  There’s also Dustin Hoffman as a professor of English literature who attempts to help Harold discover which kind of tale he is wrapped up in.

The love story between Harold and Ana is the type of basic movie magic, but there’s an undercurrent here of two lonely people with basic needs that rings true.  It also provides two of the best scenes of the film, and of the year, which include Harold winning her heart while playing the guitar and the most clever choice of a present you could imagine.

I have a love/hate relationship with Ferrell and his films, but when he’s given a good script and the proper supporting cast he has proven he can carry a film.  Here he lets go of his trademark smirk and jokes, and his vulnerability shines.  Think Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, but a little better.  And he’s not the only one, without fail the characters of this film are distinctly fragile, human, and very likable.  Arrested Development fans should look out for Tony Hale playing Harold’s only friend with a secret desire and simple dream that is guaranteed to make you smile.

Gyllenhall’s had quite a year with World Trade Center (read that review), Sherrybaby (which still hasn’t made its way to Kansas City), and Trust the Man (read the review), but actually provides her best performance here with a sweetness and sensuality that’s just intoxicating as hell.  Seriously, is there anything more cute on screen?

The film isn’t quite flawless, but it’s a damn good time and well worth seeing.  With first rate performances, and one of the year’s most original scripts, Stranger than Fiction is one of the year’s best films.

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