Stranger Than Fiction Movie Review
Stranger than Fiction is Will Ferrell's latest attempt to move beyond mundane comedy where he shouts otherwise ordinary statements to make audiences laugh to a realm where comedy is a bit more sophisticated. The result is a well-acted, well-done picture that just never completely delivers the laughs.
Ferrell stars as one Harold Crick, a depressed IRS agent who sees everything by the numbers and nothing else. He has no life, he has no friends, he has no girl, but at least he has a narrative. Yes, Harold Crick hears a woman's voice discuss his every moment and thought out loud - the only problem is no one else hears it. A psychiatrist claims it is schizophrenia, but he is convinced that the voice is a real person. As he searches for the truth, he finds that his life is finally departing from the routine that resembled a life for so long - and he gets a girl (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Unfortunately, he also learns that he is soon to meet his "imminent death".
First off: great concept. A man hear's a narration of his own life, and is told of his imminent demise. How great is that?
Second: good acting. Will Ferrell is his finest yet, though I'm still not convinced he can pull off the dramatic actor routine. Nevertheless, he is very effective in this half drama, half comedy flick. His humor is still Ferrell humor, but the move is wise; like Jim Carrey, you don't want to make the transition too quickly, for you'll find yourself without your die hard fans and without any new fans. You need to pull in the adults slowly and allow your fans time to adjust. This is the perfect role for him. As for Emma Thompson, she is classic. A psychopath through and through, she is hilarious. She looks dead half the time and suicidal the other half, although she isn't either. Why a big name such as Queen Latifah was brought in to play her assistant is anyone's guess, but Thompson is quite humorous here.
The supporting roles also have some substance, although a bit of a disappointment is Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman is quite good, but his character, while a tiny bit quirky, really doesn't have much to offer. He's slightly funny, but the way the character was written any other decent actor could pull it off; the movie certainly could have taken better advantage of him. As for Maggie Gyllenhaal, she continues to prove that she's a great actress by delivering a witty, strong and yet flirtatious performance as the love interest.
Stranger than Fiction is entertaining from beginning to end, and certainly features some hilarious moments. Ferrell's reactions to Thompson's narrative is priceless at times, especially in the few instances where he truly curses the heavens ("Shut up you stupid voice!"). The dialogue is all around great and quite witty, though not always laugh-out-loud funny. Though there are a few slow parts, everything pays off in the end, as the narrative, Harold Crick's life and the movie plot all tie together wonderfully. The last twenty minutes are terrific.
The problem with Stranger than Fiction is that it just doesn't capitalize on its potential. It is funny, but not that funny. It is entertaining, but not that entertaining. It is moving, but not that moving. The basic concept, that this poor man has some woman narrating his voice like a novel, has so much going for it that you wonder why writer Zach Helm and Marc Forster didn't do more with it. There are very long stretches where there is no narrative, which doesn't really make sense. On top of that, the movie doesn't completely play to the potential of reactions characters could have to such a narration. Crick becomes convinced too quickly that he is not schizophrenic but instead hearing the voice of a novelist, and Hoffman's character never really questions his insantiy. Furthermore, no other characters in his life really even take notice - so much more could have been done here.
Stranger than Fiction is an entertaining comedy-drama that will make for a good rental. It is certainly not as good as it could have been, even though in itself it is a very well-done movie. Ferrell's going to need a few more pictures like this to convince me that he can handle smart movies, but he's heading in the right direction.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.