guppy's film reviews

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

Year: 2006
Director: Marc Forster
Notable Actors: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhall
Score: A-
Summary: Easily the most charming film Will Ferrell has ever made. Quirky and very enjoyable; much better than expected.

I've been saying for some time that I'm not really a Will Ferrell fan. Stranger Than Fiction is forcing me to reevaluate that position.

The premise is this: Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, extraordinarily boring IRS auditor. He does everything by the numbers -- literally, as he pretty much counts everything, including number of times he brushes his teeth and the number of steps to his bus stop. His by-the-numbers world is shaken up, however, when he meets -- well, audits -- Ana Pascal (Gyllenhall), a quasi-revolutionary baker.

Here's the twist: Harold is the protagonist in an author's story, and the author plans to kill Harold off. Here's the twist on the twist: Harold is also a real person. (This literary twist forces Harold to consult a literary theory professor for advice.)

This sorta-kinda frame story is where most of the comedy comes in. Crick can hear the narrating voice of the author, although no one else can. Thus, Harold knows that his death is imminent.

That said, the film is really a love story first and a comedy second. Not that the movie isn't funny -- I was laughing throughout the movie. But more often I was smiling at the plot and the characters. Pascal exudes charisma; Crick is... well, okay, he's an incredibly dull person, but it's hard not to like him anyway.

If all this sounds like a strange setup for a movie, you're right. It's very strange. Especially since there's never really an explanation for the writing-about-a-real-person premise. Frankly, though, I prefer the lack of explanation to the hokey, fantastical story that writer Zach Helm would have had to come up with otherwise.

The film isn't the kind of thing I've come to expect from Ferrell, which may explain why I liked it so much. Gone are the deliberately hammy, overly loud phrases that I've associated with Ferrell in the past. He plays the role perfectly with wonderful understatement. The film needs that in order to have a strong anchor and not become another ridiculous comedy.

Stranger Than Fiction probably isn't going to make a showing at the Oscars this year. (Then again, how often do worthwhile films do that?) But it's a very charming film that I think is worth seeing and that I'll probably pick up on DVD when it comes out, and I recommend people go see it.


  • This was definitely my favorite of the Will Ferrell movies also. Usually I just find him annoying, but this movie had such a great cast and premise that I enjoyed it. I recommend that anyone who is unsure about it (I was, after my first viewing) see it twice. You pick up a lot more.

    By Blogger Sara, at 10:27 AM  

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