Stranger Than Fiction: Reflections Of A Life In Grey & Blue

Harold In The ArchivesIf you expect a typical Will Ferrell character in Stranger Than Fiction, you will be disappointed – unless you're open the idea that he might have even more dramatic chops than comic ones. Light on belly laughs but strong on surreptitious chuckles and emotional depth, Stranger Than Fiction is the sort of comedy-drama movie that may require you to consume chocolate afterwards…

Howard Crick [Ferrell] is the kind of guy you might expect to be an accountant, and that's sort of what he is – he performs audits for the I.R.S. His life is such a series of routines that he never fantasizes about his day while brushing his teeth. Instead, he counts brush strokes. He has counted the steps from his apartment to the bus stop, and later counts steps to the office of literary expect, Professor Jules Hilbert [Dustin Hoffman] – who notices him doing it.

The situation that brings Crick to Hilbert is the sudden intrusion into his safely ordered life of a British, female voice [Emma Thompson] that appears to narrating his life, as he puts it, "accurately and with a better vocabulary." When a visit to a psychiatrist [the delightful Linda Hunt] fails to help, she recommends he contact a literary expert – the aforementioned Prof. Hilbert. Hilbert is, of course, not impressed – until Crick quotes the narrator and the phrase "Little did he know…" piques his interest.

Hilbert, it seems, is quite the expert on "Little did he know," having written books and taught seminars on the phrase. Why that draws him into helping Crick is explained, eventually, and provides a key point in Crick's character's development. That leads to learning the guitar and giving a woman a bouquet of flours [not a mistake – read on…].

Stranger Than Fiction could be described as magic realism dramedy. The fantasy element of having Crick suddenly pick up on a narrator's voice – as she writes a novel about a character named Harold Crick – subtly alters our perceptions as well as his. When lightning strikes [metaphorically speaking] with a rerun of a ten-year old TV interview of Karen [Kay] Eiffel [Thompson], Crick's existence – as well as Hilbert's – is jolted. Another fantasy element, in the character of Crick's wristwatch, seems at first absurd. As the film plays out, though, we begin to accept it as easily as we have accepted the narrator.

Harold Plays Guitar

There is much that is metaphysical about Stranger Than Fiction. It asks questions about the worth of a man's life versus that of a great work of art. It also challenges ethics and morals: once Eiffel learns that her character is a real person, does she complete her masterpiece in the original manner – or does she find a way to let him live? What if he thinks it right for her to carry on on her original path?

Shot in a palette that seems heavy on blues and grays, Stranger Than Fiction is the kind of movie that a comic actor might undertake to show of his dramatic – or to see if he has any to begin with. Ferrell's work here establishes him as a fine actor [and you have no idea how bizarre it is to be saying that…]. He matches the amazing Emma Thompson, note for note.

In smaller, but no less crucial roles, Queen Latifah and Maggie Gyllenhaal also stand out. Queen Latifah makes Penny Escher, an assistant assigned to Eiffel by her publisher, a smart, tough and empathetic character. Gyllenhaal is wonderful as Ana Pascal, the baker whose audit plunges Crick into a whirlwind of emotions he had never experienced before.

It may be a clich


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