Nov 152006
 
Authors: Jeff Schwartz

“Stranger than Fiction” is a film that left me feeling genuinely happy at the end.

Part of this has to do with the ending itself, which is unexpectedly uplifting and cathartic. But the ending would amount to little if the beginning and middle parts of the film were uninspired or unoriginal. Thankfully, though, “Stranger than Fiction” is a film that, from beginning to end, is as intelligent and funny as it is moving.

The film centers around the ingenious idea of an IRS auditor named Harold Crick who begins to hear an author’s voice in his head.

At first, Harold simply thinks the author’s narration of his thoughts and actions is annoying, but when the voice declares that Harold’s imminent death is just around the corner, he starts to fear for his life.

Harold Crick is played by Will Ferrell, an actor most associated with the roles of hilarious egomaniacs like Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby and George W. Bush.

What’s surprising about Ferrell’s performance in this film is that he can be just as funny as a lonely, work-obsessed, undersexed IRS agent as he can while playing an over-the-top character like Ron Burgundy.

Ferrell’s funniest scenes come when he is playing against Dustin Hoffman’s literature professor Jules Hilbert.

Hilbert tries to help Harold determine if he is a character in any pre-existing stories by asking him such absurdly hilarious questions like whether or not Harold feels “inclined to solve murder mysteries in large, luxurious homes to which you may or may not have been invited?” or if anyone has recently left a large wooden horse outside his door.

The deadpan way in which both Ferrell and Hoffman interact in this scene is just one of many great comedic moments in the film.

Emma Thompson, who plays Karen Eiffel (the narrator of Harold’s story), balances out the film’s humor with some drama. Thompson plays Eiffel as a manic-depressive whose dark worldview begins to erode when she realizes that Harold is not simply a character in her latest novel.

“Stranger than Fiction” skillfully alternates between Crick and Eiffel, and the result is a film that is comedic and serious but which never feels uneven or jarring.

Zach Helm also deserves accolades for constructing a screenplay that is very funny while also featuring memorable characters that grapple with weighty issues like the creative process and mortality; issues that are usually reserved for serious, Oscar-contending films.

Mark Twain once wrote that truth is stranger than fiction because “fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”

The central conceit of “Stranger than Fiction” certainly does not stick to possibilities, but by ignoring what is conventionally possible, the film entertains us with its fanciful story while also revealing some fundamental truths about our lives.

Movie reviewer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at verve@collegian.com. The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.

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