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Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
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by Erik Childress

"Maybe This Zach Is The Real Scrub"
2 stars

You either believe in fate or you don’t. Some look to God, others believe in the magic of the stars to align. Whatever it is, it’s a grand topic to explore the possibilities of learning your fate and your choice to either accept it or fight it – if such a choice even exists. Will Ferrell’s may be to join the ranks of comedic moviestars to try their hand in the realm of drama. After years of SNL spinoffs (A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar), family romps (Elf, Kicking & Screaming) and the genius collaborations with Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights), Ferrell’s time is right to stand amongst Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler with projects less silly and thematically deeper. Just as he did in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda, the link between comedy and tragedy is closer than he believes and unfortunately in the case of Stranger Than Fiction, the line isn’t as clever as it should be and not nearly as profound as it believes it is.

Ferrell plays Howard Crick, an IRS auditor who is a candidate to steal Stephen Tobolowsky’s title of “the world’s most boring human” he earned with his character in Sneakers. Crick counts the number of brushstrokes on his teeth, has the same daily routine and goes about work like a computer to the eerie extent of being able to calculate large multiplication tables while visions of the numbers surround his every movement. One morning he begins hearing a British voice who seems to be narrating his every moment, albeit with “a much better vocabulary.” The voice is that of Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson, overcompensating the depressive), a Sylvia Plath-type writer obsessed with death suffering writer’s block on her latest manuscript – whose lead character is Howard Crick.

Howard makes every effort to ignore the voice, but after trying a shrink he finds himself meeting literature professor, Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who offers the opportunity to either debunk or understand the voice inside his head. In the film’s most amusing sequence, Hilbert puts Crick through an extensive Q & A designed to process elimination of his place in literary history. “Are you a Gollum,” is just one of the many inquiries by the teach? While he awaits further clues into Crick’s existence, Hilbert advises Howard to turn the tables on his narrator by marching to his own beat and living life to the fullest. This includes mustering up the courage to put the moves on mega-liberal baker, Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who as the latest victim of IRS auditing, is the exact opposite of Crick’s soft-spoken robotics.

This developing relationship is just a fly speck on the problems screenwriter Zach Helm has with this screenplay, but is still indicative of the suspension of disbelief we’re asked to swallow. Simply put, there’s not an ounce of believability in it. Chewing on a manuscript manifesting itself into a flesh-and-blood world goes down smoother than this young, independent ultra-laissez-faire woman would turn on a dime to Crick’s shy and innocent routine which is more likely to be interpreted as odd and creepy. If this is all just point of Eiffel’s story though, wouldn’t Ana also have to be a creation? How would she feel knowing that her strings were being pulled by a novelist celebrated by her literary belittling and elimination of the male species?

As spoiled by the film’s ads (and is admittedly an early twist to the plot), Eiffel intends to kill Crick by the end of her novel, just as she has every main character. (Kinda takes the suspense out of her prose, don’t it?) This presents a potentially fascinating paradox to man’s last days on Earth and it takes precisely the right twist on Hilbert’s final piece of advice to Crick. But its one of the few right things about Stranger Than Fiction and Helm manages to even screw THAT up with such an uninspired resolution that manages to rank not even amongst the top three bits of non-inspiration associated with Crick’s journey. Marc Forster’s direction, no stranger to flights of fancy (Finding Neverland) and obscene camera tricks (Stay) so pronounces his flair for filling the frames early on, but ditches every gimmick in his playbook a half-hour in, letting Helm’s screenplay do the speaking which is akin to allowing a smug author to voice his own audiobook before the book itself is finished.

By the end as the dust is settling and the dots are connecting between fate’s random supporting players, Stranger Than Fiction reaches a sullen magnitude not through its tone but in the audience left with an idea and nothing more. Cut out a page from Charlie Kaufman’s reality bizarros (particularly the brilliant Adaptation) and throw in a whole lot of the wasted initiative of What Women Want and the blender fuses very little thanks to the dull edges of Helm’s script. He has zero fun with his premise and no foresight into the possibilities of Crick’s history, his birth or his future. The world’s most boring human indeed manifested in one of the year’s most lifeless screenplays.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15006&reviewer=198
originally posted: 11/10/06 00:05:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2006 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/16/09 Aesop Every member of the cast was fantastic, and this movie rocked. 5 stars
1/09/09 Anonymous. will ferrell's best film! :] 4 stars
9/12/08 David 5 stars for this movie! 5 stars
8/23/08 AnnieG Less original than I'd been led to believe, but still enjoyable to watch. 4 stars
7/08/08 mitch sims you spelled 'golem' wrong. 5 stars
11/18/07 The Russian Lunch Lady I can't believe nobody thought of a film like this before. Awesome movie. 5 stars
10/20/07 Bopo Outstanding. Very different and wonderfully executed. 5 stars
9/08/07 ES Fantastic movie 5 stars
8/15/07 Ashley I liked it!! It was nice to see this side of Farrell. I like him this way!! 4 stars
5/31/07 Marty acting good but ferrel soso, ungrounded at beginning, ending overhyped in the movie itself 3 stars
5/26/07 TreeTiger About as entertaining as watching a tax audit... 1 stars
5/24/07 Tracey Chambers I liked it. It was different, and very entertaining. 4 stars
4/30/07 Indrid Cold A mostly unsuccessful attempt to make a Charlie Kaufman movie without Charlie Kaufman. 3 stars
4/29/07 izzy jesus if the devise is that crick is a real person, then how is considering killing him not evil. 1 stars
4/25/07 The Grinch What a piece of crap. It's no 'Being There', and Will Ferrell is no Peter Sellers. 2 stars
4/23/07 David Pollastrini very funny 4 stars
4/13/07 The Talking Elbow Best movie I've seen in a long time. Highly reccomended. 5 stars
3/20/07 M Craven It has Queen Latifah in it. What the fuck, man? 3 stars
3/17/07 AliCat Third Person Omniscient 5 stars
3/10/07 Phil M. Aficionado Script, cast, and acting skill rank well above the level of the storyline 3 stars
3/05/07 David Pollastrini good concept 3 stars
1/01/07 Dave Superb! Do we live our dreams or do they live us? 5 stars
12/26/06 Agent Sands One of the most intelligent and most well-made Hollywood films this year. 5 stars
12/21/06 marooshka I thought it was the best of the year...haters are just haters 5 stars
12/18/06 Ole Man Bourbon Cute. 4 stars
12/14/06 orpy I really liked it! Different and refreshing! 4 stars
11/20/06 Spartacusyentl Better than most movies today. This one involves too much thought for the average audience. 4 stars
11/20/06 A writer Why do we write? Or say or do anything at all? Watch this movie - enough said. 5 stars
11/18/06 Dadcat Answers the question"Which is more important: art, or ordinary life?" in Hegelian fashion. 5 stars
11/18/06 FrayLo I enjoyed it. Took a while to really get going, though. 4 stars
11/18/06 Elizabeth Promising concept but found myself surprisingly bored. 2 stars
11/17/06 Sir Spam-a-lot decent movie all around 4 stars
11/16/06 ajay very good. 5 stars
11/12/06 Nanonano Totally wonderful. still thinking about the odd moments. Good dialog against .....silence. 5 stars
11/12/06 Tiffany Losco Will ferrel is great!! 4 stars
11/11/06 LOLOL It has WIll Ferrel in it. Enough Said. 5 stars
11/11/06 Mary Brilliant, deep and thought provoking! 5 stars
11/10/06 chris. eh, could have used a better screenplay. 3 stars
11/10/06 Centipedes It has Will Ferrell in it. Enough Said. 1 stars
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  10-Nov-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Feb-2007



Directed by
  Marc Forster

Written by
  Zach Helm

  Emma Thompson
  Will Ferrell
  Maggie Gyllenhaal
  Queen Latifah
  Dustin Hoffman
  Tony Hale

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