' ' Cinema Romantico: Stranger Than Fiction

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

(Note: So no one gets angry with me, this review will contain spoilers - like all reviews. The ending will be discussed. I will not give it away, per se, but I simply cannot address this movie without also addressing the ending. In any event, I'm including this alert because this is a wonderful film and you should see it and should not have even the slightest detail given away if you plan to see it.)

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an I.R.S. agent who lives a life of solitude that is governed by his trusty wristwatch. But at the same time Harold Crick is a character in the latest novel from reclusive author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). The real-life Harold Crick then begins to hear Karen Eiffel's narration in his own head as she composes her book. And one morning at the bus stop his trusty wristwatch stops working. Seemingly innocent, right? Except the narrator advises, "Little did he know that events had been set it motion which would lead to his imminent death."

Naturally, this causes concern in Harold. He visits a psychatrist who just assumes he's schizophrenic. So Harold then goes to visit literature professor Jules Hibbert (Dustin Hoffman) who is concerned with the narrator's proclamation of "little did he know".

"I've taught classes on 'little did he know'", Hibbert says.

He tells Harold to come back the next day as the two of them attempt to determine whether or not Harold is in a comedy or a tragedy. By doing so, Hibbert can attempt to determine precisely which author is creating Harold's story. An audit that takes Harold to an easily-ogled baker (Maggie Gyllenhall) indicates that all roads point toward tragedy.

But things happen. Circumstances change. Harold finds himself drawn to this baker. And this makes Harold realize maybe he is in a comedy after all. He starts a relationship and starts living his life for the first time. But when it becomes clear precisely who the author is behind Harold's tale, the threat of "little did he know" returns. If he is, in fact, in a tragedy, he doesn't want to die. He actually enjoys life now.

All of this will draw inevitable comparisons to the work of scribe Charlie Kaufman ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" among others) and those comparisons are fair. In fact, this film is kind of Kaufman lite. I can't help but think if Kaufman had held the pen behind the movie it would have taken the whole thing just a bit deeper. The few hammer-it-home lines probably would not be present and it might have been a shade darker. But, of course, those thoughts are useless.

As it is, "Stranger Than Fiction" is one of the better films of the year. It talks about a person living his or her life and one facing up to his or her own fate in a unique and exciting manner. And all that aside, it's a well-made movie. Director Marc Forster includes a few too many "directory" flourishes but not enough to be all that distracting.

Will Ferrell is solid playing against type though I wouldn't call it a great performance. (I thought Jim Carrey's against type work in the aforementioned "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was much better). Emma Thompson is wonderful as always and the same can be said of Maggie Gyllenhall. The real revelation to me is Dustin Hoffman as Professor Hibbert. Hoffman is an actor that has given so many great performances for so many years that now when he gives a good one it's almost taken for granted. Well, let's not take this one that way. He's perfectly droll and captures someone who has seen it all - literaure-wise, that is. Don't get me wrong, screenwriter Zach Helm created a great character to play but Hoffman takes it to the next level - and I wonder how many of the fantastic little tics were brought to the table by Hoffman himself.

The end............well, the end left me in a confused state for a couple days after seeing it. I just couldn't figure out whether or not I liked it. In a way, Professor Hibbert sums up my feelings toward it. He knows that the novel (and, therefore, the movie) have to end in a particular way. If they don't, it's no good.

But upon reading the review of Roger Ebert (who makes me look like a pre-schooler scribbing my blog in crayon) after watching the movie a line of his struck me with the utmost power and provided me a moment of clarity. "The ending is a compromise," writes Ebert, "but it isn't the movie's compromise, it belongs entirely to the characters and is their decision."


The Fab Miss B said...

Wanna know whats playing in Nairobi?

You me and dupree
Step up (from the good people who gave us Bring it on...)
Little Man (from the assholes who gave us white Chicks)
Children of Man

Sigh. I'm getting all my movie kicks from you now Nick. We're counting on you here.


Anonymous said...

Children of Men is already playing in Nairobi? We have to wait another month here in the States! I'm so jealous!