Movies You Might Have Missed: Stranger Than Fiction

Title: Stranger Than Fiction
Release Date: 2006
Rating: PG-13
Length: 113 minutes
Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman
Language: English
Country: US

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) begins as an unlikely protagonist. An IRS adjuster who lives his life by the numbers, every day is much like every other and though he may not actually like it, he has become accustomed and reconciled to it. Emma Thompson narrates his existence and uses his wristwatch as a narrative device to discuss how mundane it all is.

We see Harold’s life through the normal events of a couple days until one Wednesday morning Harold begins to hear the narrator as well while brushing his teeth. Understandably concerned, he finds it disconcerting and off-putting for a while. He is thrown off the usual course of his life and finds it descending into frustration and disorder. As upsetting as this is, the real jar comes as he stands at the bus stop waiting to go home. Tired, annoyed, and confused already, he is given a tremendous shove out of his comfortable routine when the narrator calmly mentions that his minor action has set him, inevitably, on the path to his imminent demise.

Confusion is undiminished, but irritation gives way to panic and fear. After getting some semblance of a grip, he visits a kind but disbelieving psychiatrist (the superb Linda Hunt in a very small part) who diagnoses him as schizophrenic and suggests medication. Stymied and grasping at straws since he resists the diagnosis of mental illness, Harold goes instead to visit Professor Hilbert, an expert in literature played by Dustin Hoffman. Harold reasons that since the voice isn’t speaking to him, only about him, he must be in a story. And if he’s in a story, who better to help him?

I’ll leave it to you to discover what all of Harold’s efforts amount to in the end, but I find there are plenty of laughs as the story goes along. Perhaps the resolution ends up being a little too pat; so what? It’s one that, to me, is particularly appealing even if it’s not the one with the greatest artistic merit.

Ferrell is funny in a different key than usual as he here eschews his familiar over-the-top techniques for the much drier humor of a socially-awkward, emotionally-repressed character. Emma Thompson is a great deal of fun as a sarcastic, wise-cracking, cynical, and probably depressed, author bouncing off Queen Latifah as her publisher-imposed assistant who long ago ran out of ****s to give for neurotic writers who can’t get out of their own way.

Hoffman conveys the detached (on-the-spectrum?) professor who appears to care more about the characters in stories than the people in his life. The interplay between him and Ferrell is a delight. Maggie Gyllenhaal is not favorite, but perfectly adequate as the romantic interest and very believable as the left-wing, socialist baker though perhaps less so as the “unlikely” love interest for Ferrell’s uptight, by-the-numbers, IRS agent. Besides the originality of the premise, there are lots of other little touches with bit parts for other characters, the ever-present numbers (you’ll see what I mean), and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them clouds that make this movie a great deal of fun. Even if you’re not usually a big fan of Will Ferrell’s work, this is one film that I think you’ll like.

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