Stranger than Fiction (2006)
Directed by Marc Forster
One may stumble across “Stranger than Fiction” while browsing through Will Ferrell’s lengthy list of credits and brush it off as just another straight comedy. That person would be straight wrong. Directed by Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”) and written with poetic grace by screenwriter Zach Helm, “Stranger than Fiction” possesses a beauty and legitimacy unthought-of in Ferrell’s previous works. And he hooks you from the very beginning with a quirky, likeable, purely human performance.
When IRS auditor Harold Crick (Ferrell in a Golden Globe-nominated performance) begins to hear voices, he is quick to contend a psychologist’s diagnosis of schizophrenia. And he’s right. In fact, a local author Karen Eiffel (an incredibly complex Emma Thompson) has begun writing a story unknowingly based on Crick’s life, and she begins to narrate and accurately predict his every move. Amazement and curiosity turn to chaos when Eiffel mentions Crick’s death. He seeks the help of a college professor and literary expert (Dustin Hoffman) for advice, and leans on a local “auditee” (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for emotional support as he seeks out the recluse Eiffel to stop her from killing him off for good.
The tragically funny story draws laughter, but the laughs come with guilt. It’s mildly depressing and positively engaging, beautiful, suspenseful, and heartbreaking…all at the same time. It’s easily one of Ferrell’s most (if not the most) complex roles yet, and the star has an amazing supporting cast to back him up. His good boy/bad girl chemistry with Gyllenhaal (complete with tattoos) is endearing and relatable. Emma Thompson is passionate and full of secrets. Her meek fidgets and barely noticeable mannerisms are the result of careful attention to her character. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as a college professor, it seemed to be a role written for his delightful personality. Unfortunately, I still can’t buy Queen Latifah in any role I’ve seen her in yet.
“Stranger than Fiction” is one of those make-your-day-brighter-in-an-instant stories about love, life, death, and taxes. The dark comedy doesn’t rely on laughs – in fact, without them the movie would have been just as effective. On the contrary, it uses the humor to lighten the provocative and inspiring message the film gives – live and love as if you’ll die tomorrow…and never rely solely on one source for the time.