Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forester, 2006) [6]
A man wakes up one morning to find out that a voice is narrating his life and he has no idea who it is or where it's coming from. Eventually, the voice reveals the man's imminent death which in turn causes the man to live his life the way he's always wanted only to be spared at the end. That's basically the entire plot of this film, which has an interesting conceit that comes across in the film as not that interesting or consistently done. A lot of talk centered around Zach Helm's inventive screenplay but outside of his use of the narration thread, this story doesn't have anything drastically different from other 'man rediscovering life' films that get played out.

What saves the film from being really maudlin is Will Ferrell's performance as numbers obsessed, lonely IRS auditor Harold Crick. I firmly believe that Ferrell is much better in his more downbeat roles, such as here and in Winter Passing, than when he plays the dimwit goofball in his comedies. Ferrell as Harold has a vulnerability and tangible emotion in the character that makes him completely likable. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is why and how it has come to be that Harold is put in this situation. I truly felt that he really didn't deserve to die ; he's too harmless a man. As for the other performances, the chemistry between Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal as an antagonistic baker is solid, and give the best some of its better moments. The Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson characters don't seem that vital to the film; they come and go and are not missed when they're gone.

The film's weakness really hinges on its conceit. The narration never seems to appear in a consistent manner. Since the voice is omniscient, it should be everywhere every time. It only appears in the film at the times when it becomes crucial to move the plot along. I just don't find it convincing enough or that original. It comes across as too put upon Harold. In fact, the film is really much better when the narration goes away and the focus is on the budding relationship between Harold and Ana. My other problem with this film is that it goes into the art of writing and literary theory and it really doesn't have anything of substance to say about either. Now I've taken literary theory and all that stuff so I may be prone to a more in-depth analysis of that aspect of the film, but there's no application of any actual literary theory in the film. The Dustin Hoffman character is a theory professor but what he mostly talks about is genre and style, not actual theory. That may be a minor point for a good majority of the people watching this but it takes away credibility for me. That and the end seems unsatisfactory. It starts to go into the whole moral dilemma Karen Eiffel the author has and cuts it too short. Instead what comes out is an ending to make everyone feel good. While I don't have a problem with it, it could have dug deep. Stranger Than Fiction is a film really too concerned with its appearance and not enough with its substance at times.

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