I am not a big Will Ferrell fan because I don’t like the kind of obnoxious, in-your-face comedic roles that he usually takes on in his films. But I’d heard some good things about his more dramatic turn in Stranger Than Fiction, and since I was intrigued by the storyline in general, I decided to give it a try. It didn’t hurt that Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal also star, as they are two of my favorite actresses these days.
Ferrell plays IRS auditor Harold Crick. Crick’s life has turned into nothing more than a very lonely routine that is pretty much dominated by his watch. He wakes up at the same time each morning, goes to bed at the same time each night, and fills his days by performing the same actions at the same times.
Then one day, Harold starts hearing a voice inside his head. The voice is actually narrating his actions about a half-second after he performs them. This of course freaks him out and prompts him to go see a psychiatrist. Not getting much useful help from her, Harold decides to go see a renowned literature professor (played by Dustin Hoffman) because the narrative is basically his life story. Perhaps the lit professor can help Harold discover who the writer is.
At the same time this is going on, Harold is auditing a bakery owner named Ana Pascal (Gyllenhaal). Ms. Pascal refused to pay a small percentage of her income taxes as a protest of some of the government programs she doesn’t believe in. She deliberately makes things difficult for Harold, which results in him having to spend more time than usual on the case. This in turn gives Harold and Ms. Pascal sufficient time to start falling for each other, and this love story turns into a compelling B plot for the film.
As the movie progresses, we are introduced to Karen Eiffel (Thompson), the writer who is indeed narrating Harold’s life. The rest of the film then deals with the way Karen comes to terms with her power as a writer, the way Harold learns to accept fate, and of course with the larger question of which is more important, life or great art.
Overall, I thought Stranger Than Fiction was a wonderful film. I realize that the logistics of the plot would likely break down under detailed scrutiny, but I wasn’t interested in holding the movie up to logic. I was immediately transported into the reality of the film and didn’t allow myself to become distracted by all the “Yeah, but…” and “What if…” questions that I could feel creeping up from time to time.
I was surprised at how much I liked Ferrell as Harold Crick. I never would have guessed that he could be funny and poignant at the same time and even add a dash of seriousness to the role. I thought he pulled it off very well, and I can’t really think of another popular comedian who would have been able to do a better job as Harold.
Maggie Gyllenhaal was absolutely fantastic as Ana Pascal. I usually get bored with movies that have a love story as the secondary plotline, but not this time — and I give Gyllenhaal all the credit for keeping me interested.
Overall, Stranger Than Fiction was much better than I thought it would be. I was pleasantly surprised by both the script and the actors, and give the movie 4 stars out of 5.