Anthony's Film Review

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

A film that is very original and clever in both its premise and execution...

If there is one thing I've learned about authors who write fiction, it's that believable characters can really make a story work. This is often achieved by thinking of the characters as real people, as if the author can actually interact with the character. The fictional character can be so realistic that the author can have feelings about him or her. This is why lovable characters are likely to have good fortune while despicable ones are killed off or suffer some terrible fate. When fiction writers talk about their characters, it sounds no different from talking about people they know in real life. It's an interesting fact if you never knew this.

Stranger Than Fiction takes this concept to another level. Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, an IRS agent who lives a very routine life, from the way he brushes his teeth to the precise time he rides the bus to work. From the start, you know he is a character in a fictional story because he hears the mysterious voice of a woman. This voice, whoever she is, narrates everything Harold is doing. The style of the narration is the kind of prose you seen in novels. The first couple of minutes of the film plays around with jokes related to hearing voices. It's rather funny to watch, especially when you have Will Ferrell in these scenes.

The voice in Harold's head is not a mystery to us, however. In between Harold's scenes, there are scenes with Kay Eiffel, the novelist writing this story. She is accompanied by Penny, the publisher's assistant played by Queen Latifah. The two have continuing discussions about how to end the current novel in progress. The problem is that Kay has writer's block and cannot decide how Harold Crick will die at the end. She is an interesting character because she looks like the kind of novelist who kills her characters. Just look at her addiction to smoking and her impression of being unhappy. Emma Thompson plays this role quite well.

Going back to Harold, this guy is now frightened. The voice narrates that he will die at some point. At first, the film seems to take the obvious and unoriginal route of having Harold see a psychiatrist. There is a brief scene involving that, but afterwards, it takes an entirely different route that is much more ingenious. Harold consults with Professor Jules Hilbert, a literature professor. Dustin Hoffman plays the professor and does a nice job portraying someone who disregards the strangeness of an auditory hallucination and instead expresses curiosity about its meaning. Harold and the professor start talking about the possible genre of this story, then it leads to ways for Harold to live with and even fight this story in progress.

The film makes one very wise move. It keeps jokes about a voice in one's mind to a minimum. In fact, they're reserved only for the start of the film. Once the joke is cut off, the film proceeds to illustrate a series of events. The announcement of an eventual end is a catalyst. It sets a whole set of things in motion and we don't know where they will go. If the movie were just a chain of scenes dealing with auditory hallucinations, it would not work because we wouldn't care where it goes, if it does go anywhere.

Before I forget, let me tell you about one final main character. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Ana Pascal, the love interest for Harold. It's a sweet romance, yet a strange one because he's an auditor for the IRS who meets her because she refused to pay 22% of her taxes. She plays an important role for Harold as he is dealing with the crisis of knowing that he'll die. She's one of the people who gives real meaning to Harold's life, something he seldom had before. The film explores the theme of living life to the fullest if you knew that your life would be over at some point. It's the same thing that happens to people diagnosed with a terminal illness. Then again, it applies even if you have no idea when you'll die or what you'll die from, as Professor Hilbert implies in one scene.

What I will not reveal is the last twenty minutes of the film, for obvious reasons. I will say, though, that it's one of those endings that will really make you wonder what will happen. You will care about the character of Harold most during the finale. And at the last second, you will be very impressed by how it all ends. It's the kind of ending that boosts my quality rating for a movie by at least one or two points. Stranger Than Fiction started out as a 7 on my 1-to-10 scale, but later it wavered between an 8 or 9. With the kind of ending I just mentioned, it becomes a perfect 10. It is one of the most thought-provoking films I've seen so far and certainly one of the best films of 2006.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Stranger Than Fiction, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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