Directed by: Marc Forster
Premise: Lonely IRS auditor Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) begins hearing the voice of fiction writer Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) in his head as she narrates a book about him that will conclude in his death. Faced with his doom, Crick tries to discover where this voice is coming from and take control of his life.
What Works: This is easily Will Ferrell’s best performance so far and he finally is given a chance to really demonstrate his acting range. As Harold Crick he is still likeable, but Ferrell tones down the physical comedy and lets the script play out its tragic dimensions. The rest of the cast is solid as well, including Emma Thompson as a funny but depressed author suffering from writer’s block, Dustin Hoffman as a professor of literature who helps Crick understand the meaning of his life, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Kay, a leftist baker who is also Crick’s love interest. The unlikely love story between Kay and Crick is very well done. It follows most of the usual love story conventions but it does them very well and the writing and the acting carry a lot of authenticity to them. Also, the love story is not an adjacent subplot; it is a part of the larger A-storyline and fits together with Crick’s journey. The writing of Stranger Than Fiction is extremely good. In many ways the film is much of what Adaptation was trying be but failed at; the film uses narrative in a conscious way to reveal how stories create truths and meaning about our lives and the power of the meaning that they provide. By including the author in the story, the picture is able to go both ways and address how the act of creating stories affects both the audience and the creator and the connection between them. Stranger Than Fiction also uses some very interesting formalistic techniques, including animations of Crick’s near constant mathematics. These are done in ways that are not obnoxious but enhance the narrative.
What Doesn’t: The ending is a bit sentimental. The sentimentality is earned and Ferrell does a great job of keeping it under control. Those expecting Ferrell’s usual antics may be a little disappointed by the film’s more somber moments.
Bottom Line: Stranger Than Fiction is a very good film, easily Ferrell’s best picture and best performance to date. The performances of the film are solid and the self conscious elements of the story elevate it above the average man-faces-impending-death story.
Episode: #118 (November 19, 2006)