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Stranger Than Fiction Movie Review

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


Stranger Than Fiction Movie Review

Will Ferrell as IRS Agent Harold Crick in "Stranger Than Fiction."

© Sony Pictures
What sounds like an excellent set-up for a movie turns out to be just another run of the mill, disappointingly mediocre comedy. Directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stay) and starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, Stranger Than Fiction takes the idea of a man facing his impending death at the whim of a British writer and instead of running with it, casually swaggers to a predictable finish.

The Story
IRS Agent Harold Crick (Ferrell) has no life outside of work. Crunching numbers and ferreting out tax scofflaws is all Harold lives for. Every moment of his life outside the office is carefully planned. But here comes the ‘a-ha’ moment: one day as Harold’s counting the strokes of his toothbrush as it glides over his pearly whites, he hears the voice of a woman narrating his actions.

After determining the voice isn’t coming from his toothbrush and confirming no one else can hear it, Harold quickly realizes he needs help but is unsure who to turn to. His co-worker (Tony Hale) doesn’t quite get the concept, the company’s mental health counselor (Tom Hulce – yes, the guy from Amadeus who’s been missing from acting for 10 years) is next to useless, and a psychiatrist (Linda Hunt) tries to convince him he’s showing the classic symptoms of schizophrenia. It’s not until Harold knocks on the door of a literary theorist named Jules Hilbert (Hoffman) that his situation begins to make sense.

Jules and Harold determine that 1) the voice belongs to a writer, and 2) their first step is to figure out whether she’s working on a comedy or a tragedy. But even being able to put a name to the voice might not be enough. It seems the writer (Thompson) has decided her ‘Harold Crick’ character must die, which means the real Harold Crick doesn’t have much time left to convince her otherwise. Just when Harold was beginning to break free of his IRS mentality (he falls for a perky tax-dodger played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), it looks like he’s reached “The End”.

Emma Thompson in "Stranger Than Fiction."

© Sony Pictures
Acting, Writing, and Direction
Screenwriter Zach Helm’s intriguing idea is lost within dangling plot threads and incongruent changes in tone. Under Forster’s direction (I’m a fan of his Finding Neverland, but not a supporter of Stay), Stranger Than Fiction is a film that tries to go in too many different ways stylistically. It can’t seem to decide whether it should be taking the subject matter seriously, leaving at least this reviewer feeling lost as to how to respond to what was playing out on the screen.

Will Ferrell plays Harold fairly straight up and fans of Ferrell’s goofier comedic outings may be surprised by his ability to go deeper. Ferrell’s absolutely convincing as a man who calculates every move and methodically plans out every minute of his life.

Emma Thompson performs above and beyond the material, making her character – the blocked and frustrated writer Kay Eiffel - into something special. Same goes for Dustin Hoffman who, while in just a very small number of scenes, manages to come across as both clever and endearing.

The Bottom Line

What could have been one of those tantalizingly funny Charlie Kaufman-like films, instead settles for just being heartwarmingly sappy and – yes, it’s true – ordinary. Plus, Stranger Than Fiction loses goodwill points for its sloppy ending. There’s just no excuse for how the final act plays out.

While it’s not the worst comedy of the year, Stranger Than Fiction is definitely one of the year’s most disappointing.

Stranger Than Fiction was directed by Marc Forster and is rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity.

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