Stranger Than Fiction
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; The Evolution of a G.U.I – Featurette; Actors in Search of a story – Featurette; Building the Team – Featurette; On Location in Chicago – Featurette; Words on a Page – Featurette; Script to Screen – Storyboard comparisons; Blooper Reel.
EVERY so often a film comes along that enchants and surprises in unexpected ways. Stranger Than Fiction is exactly that kind of film.
From its imaginative premise to its impeccable performances, Marc Forster’s first foray into comedy is a genuine treat – one that touches and amuses in equal measure.
Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a single taxman who lives his life according to a series of precise routines. But one morning, while cleaning his teeth, he hears a woman’s voice narrating his every action and becomes convinced that someone is stalking him.
Across town, meanwhile, novelist Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), is about to emerge from a severe case of writer’s block by completing her latest novel – about a lonely taxman called Harold Crick. All she has to do is figure out how to kill off her main character.
When the real-life Harold learns of her intentions, his life suddenly becomes a race against time to find the mystery narrator and convince her to change the way her (and his) story ends.
He subsequently enlists the help of literature expert Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who devizes a series of experiments to try and find the source of the voices and what kind of book she is writing – be it a comedy or a tragedy. Jules also urges Harold to live each day as though it were his last, prompting Harold to initiate an unlikely seeming romance with a feisty baker named Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who he has recently been asked to audit.
But just as Harold and Ana seem to be making progress, Karen comes up with an ending that could possibly contribute to her finest literary work yet…
On paper, Forster’s movie – working from a sharp script from first-timer Zach Helm – sounds as though it’s been inspired by Charlie Kaufman-style comedies like Adaptation and I Heart Huckabees. As such, there’s a fear (especially early on) that it could become a little too clever for its own good and end up a pretentious piece of work.
But thanks to some brilliant performances and some equally deft direction, the film never outstays its welcome and really does make the most of its clever storyline. Ferrell plays things to perfection, keeping his Harold nicely under-stated and endearing in an everyday kind of way. Audiences will genuinely root for his character to find love and happiness, so that once the big decisions have to be made, they take on extra poignance.
But Hoffman is equally compelling as the literary expert who guides Harold through his choices. The two share some wonderful chemistry and their scenes together are genuinely funny.
Gyllenhaal is as magnificent as always, creating a nicely kooky character that’s also worth rooting for, while Thompson is suitably neurotic as the picky author attempting to kickstart her career.
The director also deserves a lot of credit for the way in which he keeps the humour nice and subtle, employing some nice visual touches to augment both the surreal nature of proceedings, and their light-heartedness. By the time the story draws towards its poignant conclusion, you won’t be sure whether to laugh or cry.
Stranger Than Fiction rewards its viewers on so many levels that it’s impossible to resist. It’s intelligent, life-affirming and genuinely inspiring – you can only feel good after seeing it.
Running time: 113mins