THE STORY: One morning, a seemingly average and generally solitary IRS agent named Harold Crick begins to hear a female voice narrating his every action, thought and feeling in alarmingly precise detail. Harold’s carefully controlled life is turned upside down by this narration only he can hear, and when the voice declares that Harold Crick is facing imminent death, he realizes he must find out who is writing his story and persuade her to change the ending.
The voice in Harold’s head turns out to be the once celebrated, but now nearly forgotten, novelist Karen “Kay” Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is struggling to find an ending for what might be her best book. Her only remaining challenge is to figure out a way to kill her main character, but little does she know that Harold Crick is alive and well and inexplicably aware of her words and her plans for him.
To make matters worse, Kay’s publisher has dispatched a hard-nosed “assistant,” Penny Escher (Queen Latifah), to force Kay to finish her novel and finish off Harold Crick.
Desperate to take control of his destiny and avoid an untimely demise, Harold seeks help from a literary theorist named Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who suggests that Harold might be able to change his fate by turning his story from a tragedy into a comedy. Professor Hilbert suggests that Harold try to follow one of comedy’s most elemental formulas: a love story between two people who hate each other. His suggestion leads Harold to initiate an unlikely romance with a free-spirited baker named Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
As Harold experiences true love and true life for the first time, he becomes convinced that he has escaped his fate, as his story seems to be taking on all the trappings of a comedy in which he will not, and cannot, die. But Harold is unaware that in a Karen Eiffel tragedy, the lead characters always die at exactly the moment when they have the most to live for. Harold and Kay find themselves in unexplored territory as each must weigh the value of a single human existence against what might just be an immortal work of art: a novel about life and death — and taxes.
THE REVIEW: Charlie Kaufman didn’t write this script even though it seems to be straight from his mind. It’s as if screenwriter Zach Helm was Karen tapping into Kaufman’s amazingly bizarre mind. Here Ferrell takes the stage in place of Jim Carrey, who played a curiously similar character, and brings Harold alive.
Harold’s life is as generic as a black and white box of oatmeal. It could play out as boring and tired before the movie starts until he realizes someone is in his head and his life suddenly starts to find color and love. Whereas a Kaufman movie might have grown more and more obtuse, Stranger Than Fiction seems to stay right in the middle of normal and crazy and more mainstream than Being John Malkovich. Helm has written a movie that makes you smile and ultimately feel good with the odd way it gets to an end. Even as the movie finds a few clichés it’s an interesting enough premise that it never grows dull.
FRANKLY: Stranger Than Fiction is fun because of the different perspective that it brings. Will Ferrell is toned down and his acting is much better for it. He doesn’t steal every moment with over-hyped antics and being so over the top that he forces the movie out of the grip of others. Ferrell has in the past been too much to tolerate, but in this movie he is more sensible and almost normal. Without the new premise and original idea, Stranger Than Fiction would have been like eating toast without butter or jelly. Thankfully, Stranger Than Fiction is more like toast and honey—it goes down relatively smooth and sweet.
+ Charlie Craine