Will Fer­rell leads a top cast in a funny but touch­ing fan­tasy in the man­ner of Be­ing John Malkovich, Michael Dwyer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -

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.

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