Stranger Than Fiction (2006) (PG-13)
Harold Crick lives a particularly boring life. He falls into a routine, doing the same thing every day—it's been this way for well over a decade. He will get up in the morning, brush his teeth a specific way, walk the same route every day, take the sam bus, do the same work, and go to bed at the same time...every day. Variety is not the spice of his life...it's pretty spice-less.
But, naturally, one day things are going to change.
Harold Crick will start to hear voices, but not just any voices (or voice as the case may demand), a voice that narrates his life. This voice tells him what he's doing and what he has done in the recent past...as he describes it "with better vocabulary". Not immediately assuming that he's gone crazy, Harold starts yelling out to the voice, asking it why it is narrating his life.
After a grueling day of doing his business, he works for the IRS, he finds that it's impossible to accomplish anything without this voice narrating. So he goes about his day, but the voice commands his thoughts. When he meets a cute baker (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), the voice forces his to size her up and think slightly dirty thoughts about her. Normally, he would be appalled by his lack of manners; but he's not himself these days.
Now we meet Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), an author struggling with writer's block. She thinks about how to kill people, that's her niche. She has run into a wall—she needs to kill Harold Crick.
Harold is a character that she has made up, created for a new book that she is struggling to end. She needs to kill Harold Crick, but she's unsure of how to do that. The publishing company has sent an assistant to help her out, a calm woman named Penny (Queen Latifah).
Harold starts to figure out that he's being written about, so he goes to a therapist who claims that he has schizophrenia. She suggests that—if he thinks that he's in a book—he seek out a literary expert.
This advice takes him to Professor Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman).
"Stranger Than Fiction" works on a number of levels. It's a dark comedy, it's a romance, it's a thriller, and it's a drama. It doesn't try to define itself in a genre—it just is. There's a collectedness to the movie that makes it very refreshing to watch. The film isn't trying to prove anything—it has a story to tell, and it's going to tell that saga.
As leading men go, Will Ferrell is a hit or miss. Entrusted with this drama he gives a very solid performance as Harold Crick (it earned him a Golden Globe nomination). But the movie belongs to Emma Thompson as a tortured writer.
Ironically, the beginning of the film owes a lot to David Fincher's "Fight Club". It has a main character, essentially sleepwalking in routine from situation to situation. Then something upsets this routine and the chain of events follows.
Equally ironic is the director Marc Forster. This man started out with dramas like "Stranger Than Fiction" and "Finding Neverland"...even "Monster's Ball" (the film that would land Halle Berry her Oscar). Then he was credited for ruining the Bond franchise with "Quantum of Solace"—after that it was just a short leap to "Machine Gun Preacher" and later "World War Z".
Having not seen any of his recent films, I cannot say whether he should have stayed in dramas or not. All I know is that "Stranger Than Fiction" is comically dark and dreary look at the creative process. It features strong performances, good writing (albeit somewhat cliche), and a nice moral: live like there's no tomorrow.
It may not be the most drastically original thing you've ever seen; but it is innocent enough to be deeply enjoyable.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones