(Release Date: November 10, 2006)
Of course many of us have our own "Internal Monologue" a la J.D. from Scrubs. I like to think that's pretty harmless, though I wish I could turn it off as it dramatically details such mundane things as me climbing the stairs when the elevator is out or some such horse hockey.
I admit, I've got it easy, though. In the new fantasy dramedy Stranger Than Fiction, IRS Stuffed Shirt Harold Crick (surprisingly well-played by Will Ferrell) begins hearing his life narrated by the woman writing his story. You see, reclusive writer Kay Eiffel (also wonderful as played by Emma Thompson) has had writers block for a long time, and is finally on a roll, no thanks to micromanaging "assistant" Penny Escher (Queen Latifah). She's got a great American Tragedy in the works featuring a brilliantly well-created character in the form of Harold Crick.
Unfortunately, for Harold, that is, Eiffel didn't exactly create him... God did. He's a real IRS agent, really stuck in this mundane existence. And he really hears her voice in his head. This begins as a nuisance to Crick, whose life is is precise enough to be completely set asunder by this distraction. He talks to the closest thing he has to a friend, that being a Spaced-Out coworker named Dave (Tony Hale) and finally to the company shrink, an incredibly more spaced out Doctor named Cayly (played by an almost unrecognizable Tom Hulce).
But this goes about five steps beyond annoyance and into TERROR as the narrator's voice matter-of-factly declares that Harold is about to Die very, very soon. Then she leaves him standing there screaming to no one like Dr. Sam Beckett after Al departs to play billiards with Ziggy and Gushie.
This does two major things to Harold. First, it causes him to, unconsciously and Ironically, loosen up a little bit and notice the presence (and breasts) of the hot Baker-girl he's auditing (Maggie Gyllenhaal's Ana Pascal). Second, this causes him to frantically seek help at any place he can, eventually in the guise of Dustin Hoffman's literary Professor Jules Hilbert, who helps him understand the story he's in, if not get out.
The pleasure of Stranger Than Fiction is hard to minimize. From the ironic, yet fun, budding romance between Harold and Ana to the frustration of quirky writer Kay to the fear Harold feels, especially when his life has finally become worth living, it's all a joy (and at times, a tear-jerker) to watch.
The flaws here are very minimal with writer Zach Helm at the pen and director Marc Forster at the helm. For many, an adult-minded Fantasy Film is a lot of fun to experience, and just what the doctor ordered. For others, this film might just be too quirky for comfort. An example here is the fact that Harold Crick's wrist watch is one of the major characters. Another is that some sequences are hypothetical plot workings within Thompson's character's mind, not real scenes from Harold's life, so it can get confusing to those not into this kind of thing. However, I would imagine most would find something to love here. It's rare to find a movie that keeps an audience quite this on-their-toes.
The performances themselves can be surprising. No, it's no surprise that Hoffman or Thompson are great. However, Will Ferrell excels here in his very non-Will Ferrell role. Even at his most animated, he never becomes one of his stock characters, showing the fine actor that he has always been. Gyllenhaal likewise is excellent, going from extreme indignace from a Liberal Arty chick to a romantic vulnerability to finally a canny mixture of her character's many attributes as this unlikely, yet heartwarming romance takes place. The subtext here makes the characters' portrayals all the more palpable, knowing what he knows (if what he knows is reality) and what she knows (if she's even real).
Stranger Than Fiction is stranger than your average Comedy, Romance, Drama or even Fantasy film. The fact that this all works and fits together as it does puts a big grin on my face, and most of the audiences as well. My daughter was reduced to tears both happy and sad, while Michelle and I decided we could each use a drink. It's a great, well-rounded film with great performances and a very unique theme as close to home as it is out in left field. That's something to say, and something worth Four and a half Strange stars out of Five! Now if you'll excuse me, there's... what? Oh, no, there's another voice in my head, it's... it's telling me to... DAMNED BLUE TOOTH! Hear you in the Next Reel!
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