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Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
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by Robert Flaxman

"Will Ferrell's Meaning of Life."
3 stars

Films that aspire to be more than mere popcorn entertainment tend to inhabit two worlds: the narrative and the philosophical. This may make for a deeper experience than your average shoot-Ďem-up, but problems can arise when half of the film fails to live up to its end of the bargain. The ideas behind Marc Forsterís Stranger than Fiction cut to the very core of human existence, but the film fails itself by limping through a mediocre narrative at the same time.

Scripted by Zach Helm in his feature debut, Fiction is two stories Ė that of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), IRS auditor, and that of Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), author. In Eiffelís new book, Crick is the main character; unbeknownst to her, Harold not only exists, but can hear her voice inside his head whenever he performs the actions dictated by her writing.

Ignore for the moment that Eiffelís book sounds intensely dull (Harold is actually told at one point that his life sounds too boring to be worth writing about, a pretty daring admission on the filmís part). Helm blurs the line between the filmís reality and the narrative-within-a-narrative, but this threatens to render both of them unclear. Does Harold have free will? Do the other characters? Even within the confines of the device, there are plot holes in Fiction through which you could drive a truck Ė for example, why has Harold only just started hearing the voice when Eiffel has supposedly been working on the book for years? (Are we really to believe that she only just started typing it up?) If Harold only hears the voice when itís talking about him, why donít any of the other characters hear it, as presumably they must be described in the story at some point?

Even ignoring that, some of the characters just donít work. Penny (Queen Latifah), who serves as Eiffelís assistant, does not appear to play any sort of role in the film that could not just as easily have been jettisoned. Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a baker who fills the role of Haroldís love interest, receives little more depth than she would in an average two-dimensional romantic comedy. Professor Jules Hilbert, who helps Harold try and determine what story heís in, is played well by Dustin Hoffman but has a strangely high number of self-consciously quirky scenes connected with his character.

In many ways, only Harold himself really rises above the cacophony. The film is effectively a coming-out party for Ferrell, prior to now seen mostly in broad comedic turns. Heís well-cast as the dry everyman in Fiction, but his mundane existence makes the more colorful characters around him seem exaggerated to a fault. Itís not a hard movie to watch by any stretch of the imagination, but narratively it leaves a lot to be desired.

Much stronger are the ruminations on the nature and meaning of life. At the crux of the film is the question of whether an empty existence is really worth living, with side questions about the very purpose of life (itís no coincidence that Harold ends up watching The Meaning of Life on his trip to a movie theater) and even the roles of free will and destiny. Ultimately, Stranger than Fiction hits the high notes, pushing Harold to do the things he was always afraid of, although this leads to a surprisingly anticlimactic ending that plays like a copout whether it really is or not.

The high-concept narrative may stumble, but even though Fictionís philosophy is hardly cutting-edge, it still lifts the film to greater heights. Watching Harold Crickís life unfold may be a bland if passable way to spend two hours, but itís the thoughtfulness of Helm and Forsterís intentions that make Stranger than Fiction worth watching, even if they canít elevate it much more than that.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15006&reviewer=385
originally posted: 12/17/06 20:53:24
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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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