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Movie Review: Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by Zach Helm

Movies like The Truman Show, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation have a theme in common.  They all explore personal boundaries in some way or another, whether it’s someone manipulating those boundaries or it’s someone trying to box a person into a type (through writing, or through a carefully constructed world) and failing.  In the end, only you know who you are and of what you are capable.

Zach Helm’s debut script Stranger Than Fiction, which started a bidding war in Hollywood, enters into the clique with a premise I certainly thought was going to be one-joke and tired even before the first act completed.  And, at first, I thought I was going to be absolutely correct.  For the first fifteen minutes, this movie is pretty much what the trailer says it is.  IRS man Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) suddenly starts hearing a voice of an author, Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is narrating his life in exhaustive detail.  Being painfully accurate, Eiffel’s intention to kill Harold Crick in her novel becomes a source of stress…for both parties.

Crick, with the help of a literary professor, Dr. Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who believes Crick for the sake of argument, uses the idea of his death to begin to take chances.  He starts flirting with the cute baker he’s auditing, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  He starts doing things he once shunned because his life was preoccupied with his job and wicked calculator brain, which crosses over into obsessive-compulsive territory at times.

On the other side of it, Eiffel’s writer’s block is giving Crick his chance at life, and she’s just as neurotic, obsessed with death.  Her “cheerleader” is Penny Escher (Queen Latifah), sent by the publishing company to break Eiffel’s horrible dry spell.  Of course, if she breaks out of it, Crick’s demise is certain.  Therein lies the conflict.  One person’s life is great as long as the other’s is dismal.

The movie surprised me.  It’s touching, especially when Pascal, who gives Crick a really hard time, starts warming to him.  And there’s plenty of funny to be had; it’s no one-trick pony.  But make no mistake, this movie has a lot of drama in it.  I wouldn’t go as far to say this movie is a drama, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen Will Ferrell be truly sincere in many scenes.  He’s very good.  And I’ve been in love with Maggie Gyllenhaal since Donnie Darko, but she’s become an outstanding actress, so assured.  Emma Thompson, what can I say.  Film has missed her constant presence.  She’s just always fantastic.  Dustin Hoffman has sort of found a strange Walken-esque niche in this stage of his career.

I’m not sure that this movie is for everyone; it requires some patience at times.  But it’s more than rewarding.  I recommend.


Comment from Doc
Time: November 10, 2006, 11:10 am

I’ve been wanting to see this for a while. It seems to almost call to mind “I Heart Huckabees,” in tone at least. Maybe it’s the Dustin Hoffman aspect.

I think you’re right about Hoffman getting into his Walken years. These formerly great lead actors are just popping up for the “I’m Dustin Hoffman” value. Why can’t these guys take Jack Nicholson’s lead and play badasses? It should be easy to act, it pays well, and it ensures your legacy is intact.

Comment from Jonathan
Time: November 10, 2006, 4:01 pm

I don’t see Dustin Hoffman doing “The Country Bears” or the upcoming “Balls of Fury” anytime soon; Walken is most definately a paycheck whore, but he is a whore we all love.

Comment from Jonathan
Time: November 10, 2006, 4:03 pm

And as for Doc’s comment, I think we also have to understand that Hoffman, and especially Walken,have never reached the kind of box office status that someone like Nicholson has, or even Pacino or Deniro. People do love the two, but it doesn’t show up in dollar signs the way it does with some of these other old timers. That’s not knocking talent, I’m just giving my reasons for Hoffman not really being able to do the things he probably wants to do.

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