Friday, June 1, 2007

Now Playing: Stranger Than Fiction

I’ll tell you what is truly stranger than fiction: The fact that I loved a Will Ferrell movie. Personally, I don’t find the man funny in any capacity but I was amazed at how exceptional a performance he turned in here as Harold Crick, a lonely tax auditor who starts hearing voices. Actually, he starts hearing one voice that belongs to a woman who appears to be narrating his life. It bothers him constantly, but then the voice makes the off-hand comment that events have been set in motion that would result in his death.

Naturally, he freaks out.

The narrator, as it turns out, is a novelist famed for killing off her main characters. The writer, brilliantly played by Emma Thompson, has been suffering writer’s block for a number of years and her publisher has sent an assistant, Queen Latifa, to oversee the final work. Meanwhile, Harold tracks down a literary professor (the great Dustin Hoffman) to find out what sort of story he’s in and how he can get out of dying. Harold also has to audit a neighborhood baker who is, shall we say, resistant to the idea of paying taxes.

Surprisingly, everything works in the film and the fact that I not only didn’t want to cut my own throat every time Ferrell was on screen but that I actually came to like Harold Crick speaks volumes about how good he is. Apparently, the man was born for drama which is probably why his screaming fits on SNL and his other movies never struck me as funny. He makes Crick a very lonely person who has isolated himself from enjoying what life has to offer. He’s always followed his own specific schedule and never varied from anything because he was born a rule follower. But as he begins to realize his life suddenly has an end date, albeit in a form he never expected, his eyes open up to everything he’s missed.

My Fair Lady wasn’t as big a fan of the film as I was. In her words, "It was just weird." It speaks to writers though and was very clearly written as a love letter to the craft. The commentary about how writers are all thieves stealing from each other among other things cracked me up while My Fair Lady sat on the couch emotionless.

If you’re even remotely familiar with writing novels or scripts or stories in general, then you’ll have a ton of fun watching how Crick comes to terms with the very literal nature of his own life. It’s a fantastic drama with only one truly wrong sight gag that doesn’t belong in the film. But since there is only one gag like that, and the rest of it is pure gold (especially the way they handle Crick’s fate and the emotional punch it packs), this is a film that comes highly recommended.

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