Review: Stranger Than Fiction

Posted by: Dean Kish  //  November 10, 2006 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Reviews

There have been a lot of films that have tried to delve into the human psyche; trying to uncover what we might be thinking at any given moment. Some films have been bizarre or twisted, revolutionary or interesting, and wonderful or engaging. I think we all want to know how the human mind works.

Every fiction author thinks that when they create a character, they know how that character will react, reflect, and fit into their structured life as assembled by the author. But what happens to that character when the author's mind isn't writing, and what if that character could all of a sudden think for itself and hear what the author is saying as he or she writes?

It's a brilliant concept and for anyone who loves to write stories or be captivated by a good book, then they will know what I mean when they watch Stranger Than Fiction.

Stranger Than Fiction is the story of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), a bored IRS auditor whose life has become utterly predictable. One day while Harold was brushing his teeth, he started to hear a voice in his head. The voice wasn't talking to him but more like about him. He was baffled and thought that he was going insane. Then the voice said that he was going to die.

Stranger Than Fiction is also the story of author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) who is suffering from a debilitating form of writer's block. Kay is struggling to finish her latest novel "Death & Taxes", but she is stuck as to what to do with her main character, "Harold Crick".

What happens when the worlds of these two characters collide? How will each of them figure out the dilemma they are in?

Stranger Than Fiction will probably remind a lot of audiences of the work of one Charlie Kaufmann, who wrote the screenplays for Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. When you watch a lot of the works that Kaufmann created, you don't laugh out loud. The stories themselves are weird and interesting as Kaufmann always tries to out think the his audience. Stranger Than Fiction doesn't try to out think the audience, but instead embraces it and goes for the laughs, which brings more heart to the story.

Stranger Than Fiction was written by first-time screenwriter Zach Helm, whose screenplay reflects a lot about what we love about literature, English lectures, and writing as a craft. Maybe it is just me, but the film hit an emotional tangent I almost forgot was there in my mind. I really love when films can take us away and let us fondly remember a portion of our lives we have almost forgot.

I am not a huge fan of Will Ferrell. His comedies have always been hit or miss for me. In his films there always seems to be three or four really great jokes, mixed with an odd assortment of characters, that eventually reach an often unfunny, over-the-top ending. When I first heard that he was starring in Stranger Than Fiction, I thought it was either going to be brilliant or Bewitched 2, but you know, he brings a lot of humanity to the character of Harold Crick that is all Will Ferrell. He is quite brilliant as this character and it's nice to see him subdued in his portrayal for once.

The supporting cast of Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal are all brilliant in their roles as well. I especially loved Hoffman as the quite confused English literature professor who helps Harold on his journey. Thompson's frazzled author is almost an inside joke for blooming authors with her erratic behavior as she tries to break writer's block. If you have even endured "writer's block" then you will love her character. Gyllenhaal plays her character as a rugged yet passionate cook, and it's the perfect complement to Harold Crick.

There is going to be some controversy about the ending of the film. I thought it was the perfect ending from an author's perspective but maybe not from an English literature professor's perspective. When you see it you will know what I am talking about. I love that in a sweet little film like this we can still debate it. Stranger Than Fiction is one of my favorite films of the year. And it is a must see. (4.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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