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 cant possibly get any more misguided or disjointed, it cheats on the ending.
Its 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 hes 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.
Theres a big problem here: The movie eventually gets so caught up with the sub-plots, it forgets what its 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 doesnt seem to hear it and we wonder just what hes 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: Its what she does and shes 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 Harolds 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 isnt Harolds love interest, Ana Pascal, hearing any of the voice-over lines when shes 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 whats going on. This is another moment in which disbelief got the best of me: In the early portion of the movie, Harold thinks hes going nuts, so he visits several psychiatrists. They think hes 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 Karens manuscript and calling it a masterpiece. Theres 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 doesnt like Harold. She does everything possible to make Harolds 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 dont know how women think, but I really didnt buy Anas reaction there.
Stranger than Fiction has one of the most wasted dream casts Ive ever seen. Will Ferrell plays Harold. Ferrell isnt the worst dramatic actor, but hes 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 doesnt require any stretching, and thats good because I doubt he has the chops to handle it. Dustin Hoffman plays Hilbert, and hes not given anything to do. Neither is Queen Latifah, who plays Karen Eiffels assistant. The poor Queen plays the most thankless role in the movie, one so inconspicuous it would have wasted Jean-Claude Van Dammes 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 wouldnt buy it on DVD, though.
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 … more
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 … more
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. … more
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, … more
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 … more
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 … more
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 … more
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 … more
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 … more
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 ...