Ferrell stars in a decent comedy about tragedy
"Stranger Than Fiction" is the often comedic, frequently tragic story of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), as he realizes that his life is being narrated by a mysterious female voice telling a story, his story. He soon discovers that the voice belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a reclusive author known for tragically killing off main characters at the end of her books. Crick tries desperately and comically to avert this crisis as he discovers another side of life he didn't know existed and falls in love with Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a woman he is auditing for the IRS.
Ferrell at first seems out of his element playing a generally un-funny person like Harold Crick, considering previous roles in films such as "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights." He pulls off the role of the precise and unemotional Crick with more candor and more sophisticated humor than his usual stints. Opposite to Ferrell, Gylenhaal well portrays a fiery and passionate rebel baker who refuses to pay her taxes for ideological reasons.
At its center, "Stranger Than Fiction" is a dark comedy about a man who discovers that there is more to life than numbers, a revelation that occurs as the voice in his head tells him that he is going to suffer an unfortunate and untimely death. Forster masterfully captures the essence of Crick's life, before and after his tragic realization. Through a clever overlay of numbers and calculations on and around Crick, he lets the viewer into the inner workings of Harold's mind, with all the order and semblance that make up his daily routine. As the movie progresses, these superimposed computations are stripped away allowing Harold to gain a more abstract and passionate view of the world around him.
Comedic moments are sprinkled everywhere in the movie, but do not encroach on the other ideas presented in the story. Situations like Crick's apartment being partly smashed because the local demolition crew doesn't read the number on the address correctly are effective at heightening the atmosphere of the movie. But at the same time, they do not overshadow the sadness and ineptitude that Harold feels in the scene.
A voiceover by Thompson as the author is often the more humorous part of the film, her soft and potent voice narrating Harold's life as he is living it and listening to her narration. Ferrell plays along, the voice eliciting strong reactions from him, such as staring at his toothbrush accusingly and screaming at the sky while waiting for the bus. The movie is accompanied by the sharp and clever music of the Canadian band Spoon with songs like "My Mathematical Mind," that heighten the humor for those in on the joke.
"Stranger Than Fiction" does have its flaws. There are scenes where the dialogue and action seem to die off and the viewer is left with a stale feeling. Sometimes, scenes like Harold riding the bus while reading will take entirely too long and start to bore. Rescue from dullness tends to come in the form of quick humor and fast scenes following the monotonous ones, but they still negatively impact the film.
While not a slap-your-knee and laugh-out-loud comedy, "Stranger Than Fiction" is still a pleasant film that is entertaining and original.
"Stranger Than Fiction" is PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity.
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