Stranger Than Fiction
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
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,
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.