Stranger than Fiction review by Rosie

Stranger than Fiction

(Jasons fingertips hovered in limbo over the menacing landscape of the keyboard. Feeling their strength in numbers, the keys made no attempt to disguise from him their insolence. In fact, Jason was quite sure that if he were to just turn off the TV for a moment, he would actually be able to hear the keys mocking him with contempt perhaps even daring him to try to start writing. Jason decided to leave the TV on. Unsure what direction it would take him in, he decided at least to start tapping out the obvious.)

Stranger than Fiction is a movie. (Too obvious, he thought.)

Stranger than Fiction is a surprisingly heartfelt dramedy, that marks an important chapter in the evolution of Will Ferrell. (Jason sat back to admire his moderately interesting sentence. Satisfied, he decided this achievement called for a snack break.)

(One handful of peanuts, a cup of vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup, and two plain pieces of bread later, Jason continued his review.) In Stranger than Fiction, Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, an extraordinarily ordinary man. For more than a decade, Crick has lived a life of unrelenting sameness. An IRS auditor, living alone, up and to bed at the same times every day, with every moment in between scheduled down to the second. Until the day when Crick begins to hear a voice inside his head. But unlike standard-issue crazy person voices that might tell him what to do, his voice just tells him what he is already doing. It, or more accurately she, offers no interaction with Crick, just a running narration of his life. Suddenly Cricks life is turned upside-down when his always accurate narrator makes an allusion to his impending death.

Emma Thompson plays Karen Eiffel, an author struggling to finish her latest novel and the unwitting narrator of Harold Cricks life. (Jason paused for a moment, reflecting absently on how nice it would be to have such a sexy, soothing voice as Emma Thompsons narrating his life. He wondered who decides these things and why his own narrator sounds like Mike Tyson. Taking slight offense, Jasons narrator quickly described him accidentally falling forward and slamming his head on the edge of the table. Which, of course, immediately happened.) As Karen struggles with figuring out the perfect way to end her novel, and Harolds life, Harold scrambles to find her and show her that hes real before she does.

The essential concept of Stranger than Fiction is not at all a new one. It is basically a re-imagining of the archetypical if you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do with your life today story. The way it is delivered, however, is fairly original. Not that the story within a story recognizing itself hasnt ever been done before. Adaptation certainly tried it in much the same way that the Hindenburg tried to land in New Jersey as have a handful of others played around with the same concept. But Stranger than Fiction is just different enough from anything to come through theatres in a while to feel refreshingly original.

A well-played supporting cast doesnt hurt it at all either. Dustin Hoffman barely has to even be awake to just fall naturally right into the character of Professor Hilbert, Queen Latifah delivers a rare and welcome break from her loud-and-sassy gimmick as the straight-laced Penny Escher, and Maggie Gyllenhall nails the quirky-spunky-sexy trifecta as Ferrells love interest, Ana Pascal. (This passing mention of Gyllenhalls lively performance reminded Jason of how much more excited he has become, since seeing it, to know that she will be replacing the distractingly lifeless Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight. If he had already been abnormally preoccupied with anticipation about this movie, this certainly was not going to help.) But the real winner in all of this is Ferrell.

When comedians finally arrive at the pinnacle of Hollywood success, they often feel compelled to prove themselves as not just comedians but real actors. This is especially true for comedians who arrive young and those who arrive with a reputation for slapstick or sophomoric humor. Think Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Dane Cook, Mike Myers, etc.. (Incidentally, I am giving Steve Carell better than even odds to be chasing this carrot within two years.) (Jason wondered if using parentheses in his own text would be too confusing in light of the presence of his narrator. After a minute or two of considering this, he became distracted by some cars driving past his window. By the time he recaptured his focus, he forgot what it was he had been thinking about and simply resumed his review.) The one thing they are all chasing, the holy grail of this quest, is what I call their Philadelphia moment in reference of course to the singularly effective performance that changed the direction of Tom Hanks legacy forever. So it should have come as no surprise to anyone that Will Ferrell would eventually succumb to the same temptation. Surprisingly, though, it did.

Partially surprising because I didnt even know that Stranger than Fiction wasnt a comedy until I was watching it. Even more surprising because Ferrells dramatic chops were unexpectedly strong. While this movie isnt at all a straight drama with the type of gravitas of Philadelphia, there are certainly a few specific scenes where Ferrell might catch you completely off guard with his range. He also provides plenty of moments of comic relief, which in some cases makes for an interesting contrast. For example, in one scene where he is tearing apart his bedroom trying to find where the voice of his narrator is coming from, it is fascinating to watch and realize that he is physically acting in the exact same type of manner you have probably seen dozens of times before in his SNL skits and frat-house staple movies but a simple adjustment of music and context make what has looked funny so many times before now look sad.

Im not at all suggesting that Stranger than Fiction will be remembered as Ferrells Philadelphia moment, but it is a warning shot across Hollywoods bow. A lot of comedians prove quickly to be in over their heads when they try to make the leap, but if he decides to keep building on what he tapped here, Ferrell may be the most unlikely and successful comedian to break out of his mold since Hanks. (Jason wondered if that prediction would come back to haunt him one day. He winced imperceptibly as he flashed back to that day before the 1998 NFL Draft when he confidently predicted that history would remember Michigans Brian Griese as a far better pro quarterback than that overrated Manning kid out of Tennessee. He quickly took comfort in the memory of several other far more accurate predictions on his resume, and again in the knowledge that no one can really call him on this one if it goes completely wrong since his contact information listed here just forwards to an Estonian bicycle shop anyway. Satisfied with his effort, Jason retired to the couch to continue wasting away several more precious hours of his life in the soul-deadening pursuit of electronic stimulation. Had he known how soon it was that he would be stapled to death in the unlikeliest of misunderstandings, perhaps he would have chosen to spend his time differently.)

Wait what? Hello?


7 out of 10 Jackasses
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