Sunday, November 12, 2006

I saw the movie Stranger Than Fiction yesterday.

I love films that take a chance. Movies that have an intriguing "I wonder how the hell they're going to pull that off" type of story. That's how I felt about Stranger Than Fiction after seeing it's trailer months ago.

A simple, mundane man, Harold Crick, going through his usual daily rituals one day hears a voice. It's not just any voice though, it's a narrator describing his life- as he lives it. He, of course, is taken aback by this!

I mean, how can you not be interested to see where this story goes? A great hook and I'm sold.

There's a danger in this. For every Groundhog Day, Adaptation and The Truman Show, films that had a cool, odd premise that work, there are dozens more that fall flat on their face.

So at your local cineplex, where the screens are filled with big budget cookie-cutter stories with bland characters, you go see a film like this hoping that it comes close to delivering something new.

And does it?

As the trailer featured, Harold Crick Will Ferrell) not only hears a narrators voice telling of his life, she also tells of his upcoming death. That's what sets Harold off! He seeks help, first among coworkers (he's an I.R.S. Auditor) than a doctor and finally a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman). While no one can tell him why he's (supposedly) hearing a voice, the professor does point out to Harold that he should see what type of story this narrator is telling. In short, is Harold's life a tragedy or a comedy?

Throughout the film we do see the narrator (Emma Thompson) hard at work on her typewriter. She's a highly regarded novelist who's known for killing off the main characters in all her books. Despite her writers' block and despite (the real life) Harold's protests, it looks as if he'll be added to the dead character list.

Before I forget too, I have to mention the graphics. Aiding director Marc Foster (Monsters Ball and Finding Neverland) is the use of onscreen computer-like graphics that point out every mundane aspect of Harold's daily life. These are an excellent addition that don't get in the way and enhance the story telling.

To tell more about the story though, would be to give too much away and this is the type of film that you DON'T want to know how it ends. The fun in watching a film like Stranger Than Fiction is to wonder along the way if the film makers will make it work?

As for the ending, on the surface I wasn't sure, at first, but thinking about it as I left the theatre, it worked for me.

The performances by everyone, Hoffman, Thompson, Gyllenhaal (who plays a radical baker) and Ferrell are all well done. I've never been a Ferrell fan, though as an exSNL'er he's surely not the worst (that position is held by the agonizingly bad Adam Sandler) here, he underplays Harold. He gives him a kind of dullness that is content to go through life without highs or lows. Even when he gets excited, he's not excited.

And that ordinariness is what helps propell this very unordinary story.

I give Stranger Than Fiction a timeless (wristwatch, that is):

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