Stranger Than Fiction

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A Review About Harold Crick by thevoid... Hey, Who's Reviewing This?

Nov 11, 2006
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
  • Special Effects:
  • Suspense:

Pros:Forster's Direction, Helm's Script, Look, Location, Soundtrack, & Cast.

Cons:None.

The Bottom Line: Stranger Than Fiction is a Whimsical, Witty Film from Marc Forster w/ Great Performances from Will Ferrell & Maggie Gyllenhaal.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.


Ever since debuting Everything Put Together in 2000, Swiss-born director Marc Forster has become one of the most prolific and profiled directors after gaining a breakthrough with 2001's Monster's Ball. 2004's Finding Neverland was a huge success in revealing his range as a director while 2005's Stay revealed that he can do thrillers as well as fantasy films. In 2006, Forster goes into comedy in this battle of reality and fiction about a man who thinks he's a character of a novel where he hears the writer's voice as she is narrating in a film called Stranger Than Fiction.

Written by Zach Helm, Stranger Than Fiction tells the story of an IRS agent whose dull life is changed when he hears a voice in his head believing that he's a character in a woman's novel. While the novelist is struggling to create an ending and to kill her character, the IRS agent decides to try and change his life while falling for an anarchist cake baker. With Forster as director, the film is a classic tale of reality versus fiction where a man tries to change his own life while dealing with the fictional world. Starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah, Linda Hunt, and Dustin Hoffman. Stranger Than Fiction is a clever, witty, original genre-bending film that is very heartfelt from the prolific Marc Forster.

For ten years of his life, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) has lived a very dull, repetitive life that's often dominated by numbers. He wakes up at around 7 am, brushes his teeth with the same number of strokes, counts the way to the bus stop, working at the IRS building as an auditor, going over multiplication problems, looking files, eating lunch alone, going home, eating dinner at home, and going to bed at 11:13 pm. Then one day, Harold's life starts to change when hears the voice of a narrator while brushing his teeth. Suddenly, the voice narrates every action he does and it becomes irritating to him as he tries to talk to his friend Dave (Tony Hale) about the voice. Harold looks over a file of an anarchist baker named Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who owes some taxes that she hasn't paid. When he meets her, she hates the very core of him since she refuses to pay the remainder of her tax income due to the fact that the money will go to corporations. While trying nicely to tell her that she has to pay or she'll go to jail, he becomes distracted by the narration where he ends up staring at her breasts.

The day ended up becoming a disaster when Harold hears that he is going to die where the narration gets worse. After turning to a haggard, hippie shrink (Tom Hulce), he takes a vacation where he later goes to another shrink (Linda Hunt) who suggests that he might be schizophrenic before finally turning to a literary professor named Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). Hilbert suggested that it's something that could end up being a comedy or tragedy depending on Harold's situation. Meanwhile, the voice that Harold hears is the voice of novelist Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) who is having writer's block. Imagining herself in moments of death, she is trying to figure out how to kill Harold Crick to finish her upcoming novel. Helping her to finish the novel is an assistant named Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) who was sent by Eiffel's publishers to help meet the deadline. After another disastrous meeting with Pascal, Harold tries to be friendly with her where he wanted to help her with her taxes. After another session with Hilbert, Harold realizes that he must try to stop doing everything he's done in his life and try to do something unconventional.

When Harold decides to help Ana with her taxes, she decides to make it harder only to learn that he's a lonely man who never has much. After learning that she chose bakery over a career in law, he understands her cause into just wanting to help people. Still, things become awkward for them when in an attempt to stop the plot of his intended fate, Harold is forced to accept the fact that he could be a character as he decides to do things that he wouldn't do. Already admitting that he always wanted to play guitar, he buys one all of a sudden and starts to live a new life. Meanwhile, unsure of how to end her novel and how to kill Harold Crick, Kay Eiffel chain-smokes and do strange things as Penny wonders about the strange behaviors Eiffel is taking on. In this attempt to lead a new life, Harold offers Ana some strange gifts and proclaims that he wants her. Ana invites him to have dinner where a moment where he confesses his feelings in an old punk song leads to romance as Harold seems to have a new outlook on life. Just as he was telling Hilbert about what happened, he hears the voice of Kay Eiffel on the TV where he realized that it's her.

Aware that in her work that she has killed off all of her heroes, Harold tries to find her through her tax records. Kay meanwhile, has finally figured out how to kill Harold Crick. Just as she was ready to write, her world of fiction and reality starts to collide where she ends up meeting Harold in total shock. Harold wants to know of his fate where he goes to the guidance of Hilbert in which Harold decides whether to accept his fate or live. With Kay ready to finish her novel, she wonders about all of the characters she written where she wants to know whether she has to continue on her ways or do something drastic.

The conflict of fiction and reality is a subject that seems to give audiences something that they can relate to since reality is often dull. Here, the film starts off with a repetitive idea of Harold Crick's life and then, everything changes where a writer struggles to kill off her main character while that character decides to change the fate of everything. The result is a clever and witty story from first-time screenwriter Zach Helm that has some of the quirky elements of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman but the premise of character is more heartfelt than some of the works of Kaufman. The whole plot of the film is driven by characters and their struggles to live their live and how they try to change it.

In the hands of director Marc Forster, the film is a mix of comedy and tragedy with elements of drama where the film may bend genres but it's true to the situation of both Kay Eiffel and Harold Crick. Their own existential journeys are funny and sad while they go through the kind of conflicts that is real to their own caricature as Eiffel is a woman in conflict of her own artistic pursuits while Harold is in conflict with his own role in life. Forster definitely allows moment of comedy and tragedy where the audience can figure out what's going on while getting to know the characters in the situations they’re in. The comedy aspect of the film is more dialogue driven where it's restraint but the humor is still there where audiences can laugh. Forster's approach towards the development of character and plot definitely becomes crucial in the third act, particularly the ending. The result definitely leaves some interpretation yet it's more about the fate of Harold Crick and Kay Eiffel's artistic morality. In the end, this is Forster in the peak of his craftsmanship as a director.

With the film shot entirely in Chicago, cinematographer Roberto Schaefer presents a wonderfully hypnotic look of the city while many of the interiors is filled with intimate shading and colors that allow for a moment between character to sink in. Production designer Kevin Thompson and art director Craig Jackson do great work on the claustrophobic, oppressive look of the IRS building and spacious world of Kay Eiffel's office that adds contrasting worlds of the characters. Costume designer Frank L. Fleming does some amazing work in the costumes with the suits for several of the main characters while giving Maggie Gyllenhaal more punk-like clothing as well as more conservative, leisurely-like dresses that makes her look amazing. Visual effects designer Kevin Tod Haug definitely creates wonderful, pop-up like visuals that shows off the numbers and things to give the film a quirky look to the world of Harold Crick. Editor Matt Cheese does some wonderful cutting and perspective cuts to add weight to the characters and situation while giving the film a nice, leisurely pace. Sound editor Geoffrey G. Rubay also does wonderful work with the sound to play to the situation and events of Harold Crick's life.

The film's soundtrack that is supervised by Brian Reitzell features a wonderful score filled with traditional, orchestral work and post-punk music from Reitzell and Britt Daniel of Spoon that adds energy to the film with additional cuts from Max Richter, the Clash, the Jam, and an old punk classic that Will Ferrell sings with a guitar that really captures the heart of the film and becomes a climatic moment for his character. It's one of the most enjoyable soundtracks that definitely has heart.

The film's cast is excellent with nice, small performances from Tony Hale, Linda Hunt, and a very strange one from Tom Hulce as a hippie professor. Queen Latifah is very good in her role as Penny, a woman who tries to help out Kay while understanding her eccentric working habits that involve in being in strange places. Latifah is the straight person to Emma Thompson's more haggard personality as Latifah definitely carries her own against Thompson. Dustin Hoffman is in fine form as the coffee-drinking, intelligent Jules Hilbert who again plays the more comedic figure to Ferrell's more straight man role. Hoffman's witty performance is a testament to his mastery of comedy while being the moral guide for Ferrell's character as he delves into his own knowledge of literature. Emma Thompson is wonderfully funny as the Kay Eiffel with her troublesome personality and her struggle to kill off Harold Crick. Thompson is often never seen as a comedic actress since she’s known more for dramatic work but Thompson adds a lot of humor and satire to her role as a writer.

In what is sure to be another in a series of great performances, Maggie Gyllenhaal continues her winning ways in her superb, witty performance as Ana Pascal. Gyllenhaal adds a subtlety to her sexiness as well as a snottiness to her approach to comedy. Gyllenhaal is really a great match to Ferrell as she is a woman who starts off assuming that Ferrell is evil only to give in to his loneliness as she becomes the woman who starts to help him come out of his shell. Instead of playing the traditional romantic interest, Gyllenhaal adds weight and depth to her character as she gives another classy performance. Will Ferrell, known for his hilarious roles in films like Old School, Anchorman, and more recently, Talladega Nights has finally proven himself to be more than just a brash funnyman. Following the steps of comedy actors going into drama like Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey, and Bill Murray, Ferrell gives what is sure to be the best performance of his career. More striking in this performance is his restraint and awkwardness that is funny yet heartfelt since Ferrell really is a man at a struggle with his own life. Ferrell also adds a lot of weight and wit to his role as he has amazing chemistry with Maggie Gyllenhaal while allowing Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson to be funny. Overall, Will Ferrell has now officially become an actor who can do more than just run around in his underwear.

Stranger Than Fiction is truly one of the year's most enjoyable and heartfelt comedies. Thanks to Marc Forster's whimsical direction, Zach Helm's quirky screenplay, and an amazing cast led by Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, and Dustin Hoffman. This film is sure to bring some laughs as well as some touching moments where audience can root for the struggles of Harold Crick. Given to Forster's filmography, this movie represents his talents to take on any genre as he now makes himself one of most exciting directors to bring out a film. So in the end, grab a cookie and watch Stranger Than Fiction.

Related Reviews:

Finding Neverland (2004):

http://www.epinions.com/content_163299102340

I Heart Huckabee's (2004):

http://www.epinions.com/content_158674292356

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006):

http://www.epinions.com/content_246723022468


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good Date Movie
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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