I somehow avoided the bombardment of Stranger Than Fiction’s trailer—it was on every two minutes for a few weeks—to make it into the theatre with no clue what happens in this movie. That’s kind of hard to do in this day and age of too many people giving too much of the story away in reviews/trailers. Can these critics just stop writing what happens in the movie for 3/4 of their reviews! Rehashing the plot for the bulk of the review is not good criticism and many professionals seem to do it all too often. It’s lazy and takes no skill to rehash a plot.
Now, let me discuss the plot of Stranger Than Fiction (ha!). Will Ferrell is a guy named Harold Crick who hears a voice in his head…is he crazy? Is it the narrator in a book narrating his life? Will what the narrator say what will happen to Crick in his life? There, that’s all you need to know about this comedy-drama to know enough of what goes on in the film. Why not let the rest of the story be a surprise? To me, there is nothing greater in a movie for events to happen that you didn’t see coming. It’s magical to not know.
I really liked Stranger Than Fiction. It’s funny, it has depth to it, the story has interesting things to say about topics such as the nature of writing, discovering how to live and to love and tax codes. Ferrell, who I’m hardly sold on as a dramatic actor, gives a performance that is part loopy, part serious. Word was this was in the vein of madcap screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)—it’s not. Kaufman is Kaufman and there’s only one Kaufman writing movies in Hollywood.
Maggie Gyllenhaal gives one of the most charming performances of her young career as a tattooed baker who has tax issues which results in the IRS agent Crick paying her a visit. It’s the kind of role a lesser actress would have done nothing with but she’s one of the finest actresses at the moment (when will I get to see Sherrybaby damnit?!). Gyllenhaal makes her screen time count every second she is on the screen and isn’t it amazing what talent can do to a character’s depth and appeal?
Director Marc Forster, whose career is littered with over hyped films such as Monster’s Ball (a film I really hated) and Finding Neverland, has made his most interesting film here. He doesn’t wallow in cheap, emotional ploys to tug at your heartstrings as he did in those films. Don’t get me wrong, he still wants you to like and be moved by his characters, but thankfully he reigns in the over the top maudlin crap he drowned the before mentioned films in.
Stranger Than Fiction is quirky, funny in a thinking kind of way, has some interesting things to say about the nature of writing, it’s romantic, has the enchanting Gyllenhaal and will likely make it onto my top ten of 2006. That sounds like a recommendation to me.