Stranger Than Fiction (2006) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

Director: Marc Forster
Writer: Zach Helm
Stars: Will Ferrell,  Emma Thompson,  Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Stranger Than Fiction continues our Retro Review season and this was one of my favourite movies in 2006. Having rewatched the Marc Forster film this week, it reminded me that although the movie is eleven years old, it hadn’t lost its charm.

Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, an IRS auditor (with a obsessive compulsive disorder in time and order) suddenly begins to hear a voice in his head narrating his entire life. What I like about the movie at this point is the audience members are listening to Emma Thompson narrating Stranger Than Fiction not any differently to any actor who explains the characters and the situation at the beginning of any movie. (Just like Morgan Freeman as Red narrating Andy Dufresne life and situation in The Shawshank Redemption) but when the lead actor begins to hear this narration from Thompson, you know that you are witnessing a very odd movie, but in a good way.

Although there is a complexity to the storyline that is probably easier to view to explain than read, it must be said that writer Zachary Helm did a brilliant job writing a very unique story of a man’s life and……death?

Harold at first thinks someone is talking to him and as time goes on begins to lose it slightly. The voice he is actually hearing is that of writer Karen Eiffel (Thompson) who bizarrely is writing a story on Harold Crick, a character she created but is in fact a real person. This is explained to the audience through Crick being referred to Professor Jules Hilbert (Hoffman) via his shrink who is a professor of literature who may be able to help Harold and the voices in his head. It’s during one of these meetings in Hilbert’s office that Harold realises the woman on the Television (Karen Eiffel) being interviewed for one of her books is in fact the voice in his head.

Desperate to track Karen Eiffel down to get to the bottom of this situation it is then we the audience members realise that the writer kills off her main character in all her books in the most poetic and meaningful way. It is also then the audience realises that Harold Crick is the main character of her latest book and must die.

Stranger than Fiction is a tale of a very lonely man who happens to find love through auditing Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). A cake shop owner who is behind with her taxes and basically a bit flakey in regards to her auditing skills with her business. Naturally her first few meetings with Harold are a little Icey and Gyllenhaal to be fair portrays a rebellious women who cannot stand “The Man” and naturally begins to see another side of Harold most people haven’t seen before.

Helm’s writing between these two characters is patient and natural and although the character of Harold is a little odd at first, Ferrell performs beautifully and you begin to like Harold and all his quirks. Will Ferrell is probably one of the funniest guys in Hollywood for the past twenty years and here he really shows his strengths as a serious actor in much the same vain Jim Carrey did in Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The acting muscle and might of the movie is on Thompson and Hoffman in what are what some may describe as heavyweight supporting actors and to be fair they are there for that reason. Thompson’s character to begin with is portrayed as heartless and seeking out the best death she can muster for poor Mr Crick along with her assistant looking for inspiration in some of the most peculiar places. I enjoyed her performance as a writer who is struggling to get back to where she was and Thompson is brilliant as the stressed out chain smoking “Literature Grim Reaper”

Hoffman as the professor is character who grounds the storyline, he is the voice of reason and solitude for Harold Crick who thinks he is losing his marbles at times and Hoffman’s calm influence in the movie is just right. I’ve been critical in the past with big name actors being used sparingly in movies to sell tickets and put bums in cinema seats. It is not the case in Stranger Than Fiction, Hoffman enters the movie at the right times and in the most memorable scene after reading a draft of Eiffel’s book that isn’t quite complete delivers the heartbreaking line to Harold that he must die for the book to be a masterpiece. Both Hoffman and Ferrell really capture the mood of this scene so beautifully and it’s heartbreaking to know that Crick has just found happiness in his life at this point and doesn’t want to die.

For those of you who haven’t watched “Stranger Than Fiction” I will leave the plot at this point as it really has to be viewed to experience the uniqueness of this sometimes complex story. But after viewing this film again over a decade ago still effects me which is why I can’t fault this movie for what it is. Well balanced and overall interesting storyline that is directed brilliantly in its pacing where a story may be complex is shot in the most simplistic fashion. The soundtrack is another bonus that captures the emotions in the characters and it also helps that some of my favourite songs are in there too.

I highly recommend this movie and I’m very happy to see this film shed light on the streaming service Netflix that will introduce this gem to a new audience. I recommend this enjoyable film to anyone who hasn’t seen it or like me forgot how good it was the first time around.

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