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WGUC Reviews

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction
Sony Pictures
Rated PG-13
Review by: Larry Thomas


In only two films, Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland, which seem as different as cabbages from kings, Marc Forster has racked up numerable awards and industry nominations. Included among the accolades: a Best Actor nomination for Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland, and an Oscar win for Halle Berry in Monster's Ball. Forster seems to have an uncanny grasp of what makes a good script, and what he wants from his actors in the execution of their performances.

This holds true with his latest effort, Stranger Than Fiction. This tale of a lonely, hapless IRS agent who starts hearing a voice narrating his life as he goes through his daily routine, is beautifully written, charming and extremely insightful.

If you've seen the trailer, you may think this is just another Will Ferrell comedy. Ferrell, a Saturday Night Live alumnus, has become a major boxoffice draw by making a series of very popular, lowbrow comedies, such as Old School, Anchorman and Talladega Nights. In the movie of the musical version of Mel Brooks' The Producers, he had the small role of Franz Liebkind, and showed a real flair for having much more talent than his other films would indicate. Stranger Than Fiction proves it without question. While it might be a stretch to use the words "Oscar nomination" and "Will Ferrell" in the same sentence, it's not unthinkable. His performance as Harold Crick gets inside our heads... and hearts.

Emma Thompson should be a definite Supporting Actress nominee, as the chain-smoking, totally-blocked writer Karen Eiffel, who is having great difficulty finishing her first novel in ten years. She strikes the right balance between frustrated and nearly psychotic in her quest for the perfect ending. She has created Harold Crick as a character, and as she types the story, reads it aloud to herself, which is what Harold is hearing. Is Harold and his world really real... or merely the imaginations of a novelist.

And Dustin Hoffman is back. After years of doing paycheck movies, he has a role worthy of his talent as a literature professor who helps Harold unravel what is happening to him. Hoffman is smooth and razor-sharp, as in the best of his movies. What a treat to see him back in form.

Ferrell's character becomes enamored of one of his auditees, a free-spirited baker who sports body art, is a friend to those in need in her community, and has a passion to skewer the establishment... especially the IRS. As played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, she is absolutely radiant, seriously intelligent and incredibly sexy. Who wouldn't fall for her?

Queen Latifah, Tom Hulce and Linda Hunt are also around for small, but important, roles.

In addition to the terrific performances, script and direction, the design of the film, which accentuates Harold's obsession with numbers, and the rigidity in his ho-hum life is outstanding. The use of both original music and previously-recorded tunes is right on the money, and a perfect accompaniment to the action.

This is not the typical Will Ferrell comedy. Although it has humor, and funny moments, it's not really a comedy per se. And if you're expecting a logical, bricks-and-mortar explanation of what's happening to Harold Crick... don't. Stranger Than Fiction is the perfect definition of "suspension of disbelief." Don't think too much about the "why" and "how" of this story; just go along for the ride. You will be amply rewarded.


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