Friday, November 10, 2006

REVIEW: Stranger Than Fiction

Strangely profound and poignant Fiction

We’re all familiar with the idea that we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves, that life is a giant story being told by something out there. But what if that were literally true? And what if it wasn’t a cosmic force or supernatural being, but just someone like you and me?

That’s the question that Stranger Than Question tries to answer, and the result is one of the best feel-good films of the year. The protagonist is Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an obsessive-compulsive IRS agent who wakes up one morning to discover that a woman’s voice is following him and narrating his every move. At first the voice is merely an annoyance, but when it starts talking about his imminent death he embarks on a quest to discover the truth and hopefully change his fate. At the same time, a respected author (Emma Thompson) is in the middle of writing her new book, “Death and Taxes”, whose protagonist happens to be an IRS agent named Harold Crick. It doesn’t take a genius to see what’s going on.

All of the actors give strong performances, particularly Ferrell and Thompson. Although Ferrell has already shown he can handle more serious material through films like Melinda and Melinda, his depiction of Harold Crick demonstrates his true range as an actor. Rather than going over-the-top with Harold’s confusion, he steps back and utilizes subtle expressions and nuances to communicate his character’s unhappiness with the hand he’s been dealt. This clashes perfectly with Thompson’s sharp, unsettling performance as a woman who ironically at times appears crazier than voice-hearing Harold.

Even more impressive than the acting, however, is how the film juggles multiple plotlines and themes without getting bogged down in complexity or hubris. It forces the viewer to come to terms with his or her own mortality and asks heavy questions about destiny, free will and the nature of the artist as creator. Yet, surprisingly, this never detracts from the core of the storyline – if anything, the film is even more touching and poignant because of it.

This was a risky film to make. The structure could easily have seemed superficial, and the character development clichéd and trite. However, Forcster has crafted his film with all the care and attention to detail his author gives to her novel, and the result is a film that manages to deal with profound and complex themes without alienating its audience. If there’s anything to complain about, it’s that in making a risky film Forcster forgets to take risks, often avoiding the more thought-provoking plot twist for a less demanding one. However, that doesn’t make Stranger Than Fiction any less satisfying a work of cinema.

Rating: 8/10