(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)
I have a confession to make. I'm in love. No, not with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Doh! Everyone is in love with her. I'm in love with Will Ferrell! As my friend Mikey says,"He's the new Bill Murray." And we all know how much I love Bill Murray. I never watched Ferrell much on SNL but I thought his fake George Bush commercials were hilarious. It was his portrayal of Ricky Bobby the Nascar driver that won me over. I laughed until I cried. Anyway, Ferrell is the star of the new movie, Stranger Than Fiction, another Charlie-Kaufman-esque film, like The Science of Sleep tried to be, but failed. Stranger Than Fiction is more successful, much more successful. In fact, I loved this movie. It is so wonderful and sweet movie that I want to declare officially that Stranger Than Fiction is the feel good movie of the fall!
Stranger Than Fiction tells the story of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). Crick is an IRS agent who, as the narrator soon tells us, lives alone, eats alone, has no friends, no girlfriend, and counts his brush strokes when brushing his teeth. The narrator is important because Harold Crick is the main character in her new book. She is the famous author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). But for some reason, Crick is a real person. And he is doing exactly what Eiffel is writing. For a while, it's just annoying for Crick. The voice in his head is driving him nuts, but he goes on with his life as an IRS agent. He is auditing a free-spirited woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who runs a bakery. Eventually, he seeks help from a couple of psychologists (Linda Hunt & Tom Hulce) but ends up consulting with a Professor of Literature (Dustin Hoffman) to try and figure out who the narrator is. Meanwhile, the narrator, Ms. Eiffel, has a bad case of writer's block. So, her publisher sends over an assistant (Queen Latifah) to help her. The problem is that she has to kill off Harold Crick at the end of the book, and she's having trouble figuring out how to kill him. When Crick finds out that he's about to die, he gets very upset. Make sense?
Stranger Than Fiction is wonderful from beginning to end. It is completely surreal, of course, but it all works, partly due to the great script, and partly due to the great cast. In addition to Ferrell, the cast is pretty amazing. It includes Dustin Hoffman (7 Oscar Nominations, 2 wins), Emma Thompson (4 Oscar Nominations, 2 wins), Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Queen Latifah (1 Oscar Nomination). Thompson and Hoffman both show why they are the greatest. They are effortless in creating their off-the-wall characters. And Gyllenhaal shows again why she is becoming a great one. This is a much nicer role for her than World Trade Center. She really gets to let loose in her character which is the polar opposite of Ferrell's repressed IRS agent. But, she and Ferrell have such a great chemistry together that you will believe that they could fall for each other. There are also two cameos by former Oscar nominees/winners, Linda Hunt (The Year of Living Dangerously) and Tom Hulce (Amadeus). Tony Hale, who plays Crick's even more geeky best friend, has a very recognizable face from his commercial work.
By the way, according to my source authority, The Internet Movie Database, Stranger Than Fiction is the 7th movie to be made with that title. But, this 7th movie with this title could have been written by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich). But it wasn't. Stranger Than Fiction was written by a neophyte (Zach Helm), and was directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball). The screenwriter, Zach Helm, seems to be an up and comer. If Stranger Than Fiction is any indication, he may be the next Charlie Kaufman. And Forster seems to be doing a completely different, but good, kind of movie each time. The story for Stranger Than Fiction is very original. The only thing I can think of, that is a bit like it, is a book called Sophie's World. I recommend it too. And Stranger Than Fiction has a bit of the same feeling as Groundhog Day. Which brings us back to Will Ferrell and Bill Murray. I love Bill because he can just stand there on screen, doing nothing, and be completely funny and expressive. There is quite a bit of that in Will Ferrell. He does a wonderful job as Harold Crick, a role that has to be played completely straight to work. It is the opposite of his last role as Ricky Bobby. The bottom line is that Ferrell's character is so sweet, that even though he's in a bigger rut in his life than anyone, Gyllenhaal and the audience fall in love with him. Me too. Don't let this movie get lost in the Borat madness. Go see it.