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Stranger Than Fiction

A comedy movie directed by Marc Forster

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Sometimes Fiction is Stranger

  • May 16, 2007
Pros: Clever idea

Cons: Concept fizzles out halfway through

The Bottom Line: Writers are nuts.

Stranger than Fiction should be a lot better than it is. It has an idea which is amazingly original. But somewhere along the line it loses its focus, veers off in more directions than a Robert Altman movie, and eventually just says “screw it.” Just when you think it can’t possibly get any more misguided or disjointed, it cheats on the ending.

It’s a shame to watch such a clever idea go to waste. The movie is about Harold Crick, an IRS agent who wakes up one day and begins hearing a mysterious voice. The voice, he eventually learns, is the voice of a popular author named Karen Eiffel. She is writing the very events of his life in her newest novel. This author is known for killing off her lead characters in weird, creative ways. So Harold sets out to find her and beg her not to kill him. Along the way, we see Harold go through a series of events that change his social life. He has his apartment wrecked by accident, falls in love with a spunky baker he’s supposed to be auditing, and learns to play the guitar. Meanwhile, Eiffel struggles to come up with a unique way to kill him off. One funny scene finds her in an emergency room asking where the terminal patients are.

There’s a big problem here: The movie eventually gets so caught up with the sub-plots, it forgets what it’s supposed to be about. The voice gradually becomes less frequent, and on the few occasions later in the movie when we do hear it, Harold doesn’t seem to hear it and we wonder just what he’s doing about it, if anything. And while Eiffel is played to scene-stealing perfection by Emma Thompson, we are never given a plausible motive for her wanting to knock off her lead. The writers of Stranger than Fiction leave us to believe two things have to do with it: It’s what she does and she’s a weirdo.

The whole plot of the movie depends a lot on your ability to suspend your disbelief. Unfortunately, the mounting questions about the philosophical quirks behind the premise often go unanswered and so they make full immersion impossible. Among the questions I kept asking myself were, just what is this book about? How much of Harold’s life is Karen writing about – is she including all the parts about her meeting Harold, like Kurt Vonnegut did in Breakfast of Champions? Would there be a way for Harold to avoid knocking himself off? Why isn’t Harold’s love interest, Ana Pascal, hearing any of the voice-over lines when she’s clearly one of the main characters in the book? Is Harold seeing the same literary professor in the book as he is in his life to help him figure out this mystery? For many of these questions, there is no hint of a straight answer. For a handful of other questions which do get answered, the answers are quickly dashed off and not explored in a satisfactory manner.

Stranger than Fiction is another one of those movies which should have had a little extra time tacked onto it to answer some of these gaping holes. Doing that, however, would have created a big problem for the writers: The movie could have been just a blob of people discussing philosophy 101 classes, like Waking Life. They were really put into a unique situation here, and I can understand that. But their way of getting out was just lazy.

Perhaps we can look to Professor Hilbert for a clue. Professor Hilbert is an expert on literature who Harold goes to in order to find out just what’s going on. This is another moment in which disbelief got the best of me: In the early portion of the movie, Harold thinks he’s going nuts, so he visits several psychiatrists. They think he’s just a little crazy, but otherwise harmless. After being told to find a literature expert, Harold goes to Hilbert and Hilbert accepts him almost right off the bat! Talk about crazy behavior. Hilbert becomes a psychiatrist himself. Interestingly, he also becomes a kind of villain after reading Karen’s manuscript and calling it a masterpiece. There’s no way out of it, he tells Harold. We all gotta go sometime.

The romance between Harold and Ana is difficult to buy into. It starts when Harold audits her, and when we first meet her, she clearly doesn’t like Harold. She does everything possible to make Harold’s job as hard as possible. When the auditing is complete, though, she does an instant presto-chango 180 degree flip and has cookies hot out of the oven and milk for him. Even then, Harold does something stupid and she gets mad until he shows up at her bakery one day and says he wants her. I don’t know how women think, but I really didn’t buy Ana’s reaction there.

Stranger than Fiction has one of the most wasted dream casts I’ve ever seen. Will Ferrell plays Harold. Ferrell isn’t the worst dramatic actor, but he’s clearly not as talented as Steve Martin, Dan Ackroyd, Jim Carrey, or Eddie Murphy, other sketch comedy veterans who became movie superstars. (Carrey was on In Living Color. He counts.) His part doesn’t require any stretching, and that’s good because I doubt he has the chops to handle it. Dustin Hoffman plays Hilbert, and he’s not given anything to do. Neither is Queen Latifah, who plays Karen Eiffel’s assistant. The poor Queen plays the most thankless role in the movie, one so inconspicuous it would have wasted Jean-Claude Van Damme’s acting talent. Maggie Gyllenhal plays Ana with a flair which was sorely needed because without it Ana would have been a very bland part. And Emma Thompson is the only interesting character, playing Karen Eiffel with a crazy look in her eye.

Stranger than Fiction is a unique movie. Watch it once to enjoy its originality. I wouldn’t buy it on DVD, though.


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More Stranger Than Fiction reviews
Quick Tip by . October 19, 2010
I wasn't eager to see this. Then I couldn't wait to persuade my husband to see it. A weird premise beautifully executed.
review by . November 08, 2008
Stranger Than Fiction
The premise is simple but interesting: guy starts hearing a disembodied voice narrating his life and realizes he's a character in someone else's story. That's pretty much it. But the movie manages to deliver its deeper message, one about living instead of just being, without the usual everybody-be-happy cheesiness which defines so many "feel good" movies.  Will Ferrell's turn as lonely IRS agent Harold Crick is a far cry from his usual onscreen persona but that may well be what makes this …
review by . March 05, 2009
I was pleasantly surprised at this very well-done film with a highly likeable Will Ferrell as Harold Crick who is a character in a novel by Emma Thompson (I forgot her character's name) that Emma has scheduled to die.  Somehow Crick's watch does something to make him real and he can hear Emma's narration of her novel as she types it.  Crick starts to realize that all Emma's observations about him are accurate, so when she says that a certain event will set things in motion that Crick will …
review by . April 05, 2009
Short Attention Span Summary (SASS):     1. Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a tax man. As a matter of fact, he's the kind of serious tax man that the Beatles sang about:   "Now my advice for those who die, (Taxman!)   Declare the pennies on your eyes, (Taxman!)   `Cos I'm the Taxman."   2. Crick begins hearing a female voice in his head narrating his life, and starts to take it really seriously when she starts talking about impending doom. …
review by . December 17, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Harold Crick Was an Ordinary Man Until...
Imagine that your whole life, your entire existence was the creation of another human being's mind. What would it feel like to know that your actions were not the result of individual thought but were born of an author's imagination? How would you react if you knew that all of your pains and problems were no more than the whims of an eccentric writer? What if your fate, your world, even your personality were just the invention of another person? And what if your life was about to end and you knew, …
review by . February 07, 2009
Best-selling author, Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), is struggling with her newest novel. How will she kill the main character, Harold Crick? Little does she know, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is real and she is writing his life story. Harold has been hearing her voice in his head as she narrates every moment of his mundane life as an IRS agent. Harold seeks out help from a professor of literature (Dustin Hoffman), and together they try to figure out who the voice is and what it means for Harold's …
review by . December 18, 2007
What an intriguing concept - an ordinary if somewhat introverted man who, unbeknownst to himself, is actually a character in a novel-in-progress, and a novelist whose character, unbeknownst to her, is real. Not an easy story to write or film. Nevertheless, both have been done, and done well. The screenplay makes the whole thing comprehensible, and the stellar acting makes it believable. It was hard to accept that this restrained actor is Will Ferrell. He DOES have talent, and a bit of that goofy …
review by . October 01, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
I was pleasantly surprised at this very well-done film with a highly likeable Will Ferrell as Harold Crick who is a character in a novel by Emma Thompson (I forgot her character's name) that Emma has scheduled to die. Somehow Crick's watch does something to make him real and he can hear Emma's narration of her novel as she types it. Crick starts to realize that all Emma's observations about him are accurate, so when she says that a certain event will set things in motion that Crick will die, he …
review by . September 07, 2007
Truly enjoyable movie. Thompson creates yet another memorable character. She truly excells at portraying cynical characters. Gyllenhaal's character, although not as memorable, was well portrayed. Huffman was excellent as well. And Ferrell, well, it was good. His expressions' portraying a lost sad man living a completely uneventul life won me over. The movie, as opposed to its characters, refused to fall into cynicism. It is intersting to note that the most cynic of the characters goes outside of …
review by . August 22, 2007
I have a hobby as a writer. I've actually had some of my work published. I've done some pretty awful, horrible things to some of my characters. I've killed them, maimed them, subjected them to abuse parents, drugs, fear, danger and death. All in the name of good writing and conflict!    So you'll understand that the idea of ever meeting some of my characters, especially, say, in a dark alleyway, is something that fills me with some sense of trepidation.    This …
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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #26
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Stranger than Fiction
Theatrical film poster Directed by Marc Forster Produced by Lindsay Doran Written by Zach Helm Starring Will Ferrell
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Dustin Hoffman
Emma Thompson
Queen Latifah
Tony Hale Music by Britt Daniel
Brian Reitzell Cinematography Roberto Schaefer Editing by Matt Chesse Distributed by Columbia Pictures Release date(s) November 10, 2006 Running time 113 min. Language English Budget $30 million Gross revenue $40,660,952

Stranger than Fiction is a 2006 American comedy drama film. The film is directed by Marc Forster, written by Zach Helm, and stars Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson. Columbia Pictures distributed the film.[1]

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[edit] Plot

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service, living his entire life based on the timing of his wristwatch. He is given the job to audit an intentionally tax-delinquent baker, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to whom he is awkwardly attracted. On the same day, he begins hearing the voice of a woman that is omnisciently narrating the events in his life, but he is unable to communicate with the voice. On his way home, Harold's watch stops working and he resets it using the time given by a bystander; the voice narrates "little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his ...

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