Monday, January 29, 2007


A whole new genre

By Edward Copeland
It seems to me, and perhaps you could call them Kaufmanesque films though Charlie Kaufman certainly didn't create the genre, that you could label an entire section of video stores (while they still exist) as Better Ideas Than Movies. Stranger Than Fiction belongs in that section beside films such as Being John Malkovich and The Truman Show.

I liked Stranger Than Fiction quite a bit, helped in no small part by its solid ensemble of performers. Will Ferrell delivers his best-ever screen work as IRS auditor Harold Crick, a man who starts hearing a voice that seems to be narrating his life and realizes that he's both human and a character in the novel of reclusive writer Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson).

The biggest downside: All her main characters die in the end, meaning Harold's days could well be as numbered as the pages on Eiffel's manuscript (God love her, she still uses a typewriter). When Harold's therapist can't convince him that he's just schizophrenic, she recommends that he seek out a prominent literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) who comes to believe that Harold isn't imagining things, especially when he identifies the voice as belonging to Eiffel, one of his favorite writers.

The premise certainly is an intriguing one, but like many films of this type, it's difficult to construct a conclusion to equal the original contrivance. It raises interesting questions and while billed as a comedy, it plays more bittersweet than boisterous, but the cast more than makes up for it.

Thompson really excels as the nervous, chain-smoking novelist torn between what's best for her book and what's best for another human being and Hoffman is fine as man whose life is literature. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives another standout turn as a woman who begins as someone Harold is auditing before becoming his unlikely girlfriend. She could have been justly nominated in both lead and supporting Oscar categories this year and the Academy should be ashamed for giving her neither.

Though his part is small, I must mention the presence of Tony Hale if only to lament the much-missed Arrested Development.

Director Marc Forster moves the film along well and certainly is building an eclectic body of work. To think the same director helmed Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction is somewhat astounding.

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