The line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred in the new Marc Forster movie “Stranger Than Fiction.” This mischievous film employs an impressive cast and dynamic plot that come together to bring audiences something rarely seen in the world of movies: a unique plot. The film’s quirkiness and original style truly make it stranger than fiction.
Enter Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), a fictional man whose life is narrated by a female British voice. Harold Crick is a rather pitiful person. As a senior Internal Revenue Service agent in Chicago, he rigidly follows the same dull routine every day and has no social life of which to speak. Just when audiences think Harold Crick’s story is one of complete and utter boredom, something goes very wrong- Harold begins hearing the narrator’s voice in his head. Suddenly, Harold’s carefully structured life is thrown into disarray as his wristwatch, a would-be girlfriend, an eccentric literature professor and Harold’s mysterious narrator turn his world upside down.
Ferrell must be given credit for bringing a dull character to life. Even as a no-nonsense IRS agent, one cannot help but laugh whenever he appears on screen. Ferrell plays Harold’s dorky, mechanical character so brilliantly that he brings humor to the situation without trying and watching his story unfold only gets funnier as his mysterious narrator drives him bonkers.
Maggie Gyllenhaal spices up the movie as the feisty, free-spirited local baker Ana Pascal. Gyllenhaal plays Harold’s love interest while making Harold’s job of sorting through her tax receipts as miserable as she can. Her tough exterior slowly unravels to reveal a surprisingly deep character. Dustin Hoffman simply steals the show from his first appearance as Professor Jules Hilbert; his wacky, eccentric mannerisms serve as a guide to Harold and his goofiness belies his wisdom.
Emma Thompson plays Harold’s narrator, the famed yet reclusive writer Karen Eiffel. Thompson’s character becomes instantly likeable as a writer’s block-stricken genius whose nuttiness and intense imagination make viewers wonder what goes on inside her head. Queen Latifah is more disappointing as the wry Penny Escher, as the movie could have used more of Latifah’s well-known spunk and loudmouthed humor.
“Stranger Than Fiction” is screenwriter Zach Helm’s first script and he clearly has a knack for creativity. Harold’s story unfolds in a creative way between the clashes of Professor Hilbert’s advice, Karen Eiffel’s narration and Ana Pascal’s increased involvement in Harold’s life. At no point do the movie or its actors become too slapstick. During the story, the script manages to find humor in even the direst situations, preventing the film from becoming too dark.
“Fiction” becomes anything but predictable, especially when Eiffel first communicates with Harold Crick, her novel’s main character. The movie does not answer all of the questions it presents, which may lead some viewers to feel unsatisfied. Regardless, it gives audiences questions to ponder for a long time after the credits roll.
“Stranger Than Fiction” underscores the remarkable achievement of creating a movie with a genuinely original plot. Viewers will laugh at Ferrell’s antics while remaining on the edges of their seats waiting to see how Harold Crick’s story will end- or begin.