Will Ferrell leads a top cast in a funny but touching fantasy in the manner of Being John Malkovich, Michael Dwyer
THE aptly titled Stranger Than Fiction is a serious comedy that introduces its protagonist, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), as a US government tax auditor who leads a lonely life and whose every day follows the same precisely ordered routine. On what begins as just another Wednesday, Crick hears a woman’s voice narrating his every action and thought, but nobody else can hear her.
It transpires that she is Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a reclusive author who has been toiling for 10 years on her new book. Crick’s meticulously arranged world begins to fall apart when he realises that he is a character in her novel – and that she plans to kill him in the last chapter. (The working title for the movie was Killing Harold Crick.)
The offbeat consequences involve a left-wing young baker, radiantly played by Maggie Gyllenhaal; a literary theorist (Dustin Hoffman) who doubles as a lifeguard; a publishing associate (Queen Latifah) assigned to prod Eiffel into finally finishing her novel; and a psychiatrist (Linda Hunt) who diagnoses Crick as schizophrenic. As Crick is threatened with imminent death, he realises that it’s time for him to get a life.
Acceptance of the movie’s premise implies a willing suspension of disbelief, and this is achieved effortlessly through Zach Helm’s deftly plotted screenplay, which is concerned with, among other matters, the creative process and the hold and affection exerted by literary characters. Eiffel’s voiceover observations on Crick’s behaviour are perfectly formed in the style of extracts from a novel and replete in descriptive detail.
In a humorous sideswipe at the banality of TV arts coverage, a clip from an old interview features Eiffel promoting her novel Death and Taxes on a book channel. The presenter is so clueless that she mistakes the title for Death in Texas. By coincidence, Stranger Than
is director Marc Forster’s second film in three years to deal with the making of fiction, following Finding Neverland, in which Johnny Depp played author JM Barrie as he finds the inspiration for Peter Pan.
Although Stranger Than Fiction is frequently very funny in its offthe-wall dialogue and situations, it presents Ferrell with his first essentially straight role, and he makes the transition from comedy with ease, surrounded by an impeccable ensemble cast. The film is smart, intriguing and entertaining in the postmodern style of Charlie Kaufman’s work on Adaptation and Being JohnMalkovich, and tender and appealing as it reflects on fate, mortality, self-belief, the stress of modern life, and the symbolism of different guitars.