By Al Kratina
Dec 19, 2006 - 22:54
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by Zach Helm
Produced by Lindsay Doran
Genres: Romantic Comedy
Release Date: November 10, 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity.
Running Time: 113 minutes
The strangest thing about this movie is that it's quite good, despite having Will Ferrell in it. Generally, putting Will Ferrell in a movie is like urinating in a pool. Sure, it seems funny at the time, but it quickly becomes an experience you're ashamed of, like watching Anchorman. In more severe cases, like Kicking and Screaming, you can get a rash, blistering, or ammonia poisoning if any gets in your mouth.
The success of the film may come from the fact that Ferrell is here cast as the straight man, allowing his complete lack of any jokes whatsoever to work in his favor, as opposed to dragging behind him like a cinderblock of compacted awkward silence. Ferrell is the kind of funny on purpose my grandfather is by accident, which doesn't make me laugh, it just makes me want to take a shower and get the smell of pipe tobacco and brandy out of my clothes. As the Arthur Dent of this high concept comedy, however, he works perfectly well. He's got just the right mix of bewilderment and exasperation necessary to truly ground the absurdities swirling around him, like Buster Keaton without the facial paralysis. Stranger Than Fiction has Ferrell as Harold Crick, an IRS tax agent who begins hearing a strange female voice narrating his life in rather unflattering terms. The voice indirectly informs Harold of his impending death, which Harold finds understandably upsetting. It turns out the voice belongs to Emma Thompson, who plays Kay Eiffel, a writer whose latest book features Harold Crick, and who seems to hold his fate in her hands. In his quest to escape his pre-destined doom, Crick seeks advice from a psychiatrist, a literary theorist, Buster from Arrested Development, and a baker before discovering that if his life is in fact a story, he might as well make it one of those saccharine feel-good stories where a guy about to die learns to live again.
Written by Zach Helm, the script is tight, funny, and above all, intelligent. In the guise of a lighthearted romantic comedy, Stranger Than Fiction actually poses some interesting questions about fatalism and pre-destination, while working in enough nerdy elements of post-modernism and meta-textualism to remind film critics of why they spent four years in school. Ferrell's performance is surprisingly solid, especially considering the fear that leaps into my heart every time a comedian takes on a serious role, even a semi- serious one like this. There's always a threat things will degenerate into the Jim Carrey's barely controlled mania, or the Oscar-baiting emoting of Robin Williams, whose serious performances always reminds me of a circus bear crying. Emma Thompson has never let me down, though she's visibly resisting what must be a strong temptation to mug, perhaps due to the control of director Marc Forster. Forster keeps things tight and contained, and aside from a few unnecessary Fight Club flourishes that have the tendency to make the visual style of the film drift from romantic comedy to expensive bank commercial, he's got a firm grasp on the proceedings. Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Ferrell's love interest, is strong as well, so much so that Will Ferrell sleeping with her barely feels like a math teacher oogling the babysitter. All in all, the film is satisfying, touching (not in the babysitter way), and intelligent. Even though it has Will Ferrell.
Rating: 8 /10