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Helm's great screenplay and Ferrell's astonishing acting make for an excellent film
DonFishies10 November 2006
I liked the idea of Stranger than Fiction from the start. And I still like the idea after having seen the film. I was not a big fan of all the huge press first-time screenwriter Zach Helm was getting, but in comparison to the ballooning publicity with Sascha Baron Cohen and Borat!, it was not too bad. I continually looked forward to seeing the film, and am glad that the great trailer did not reveal everything like I had originally assumed.

The film involves Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an IRS agent who lives his life by a very strict routine. One day, he wakes up, and begins to hear a woman narrating all of his actions. Suspicious, Crick continues attempting to live his life out, but after an inexplicable comment in regards to his "immenent death", he goes on the hunt for the voice. Randomly spliced into Crick's search is Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). She is writing a novel about a character named Harold Crick, and is unknowingly the voice Crick keeps hearing. She is battling a case of writer's block, and spends much of the film attempting to come up with the finale for the character.

Unlike many other existential comedies, Fiction is sweet and almost innocent in its design. Yes, the main focus of the film is pretty grim, but the life-altering questions that keep going around during the film do not become anywhere near as depressing and bizarre as those found in the likes of the work of Charlie Kaufman. In a way, Fiction feels a lot like a Kaufman-written film, but lacking in the means of being totally "out there"; almost like being a decaf as opposed to a regular. As a result, while being an excellent film (albeit slightly predictable), it cannot break past the mold already set by the likes of the absolutely brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It just feels like it is missing that spark that could have sprung it right into the brilliance that all films like this strive for.

Going along with the story itself, it feels a little ill-paced in some few instances, but for the most part sucks you right in and keeps you there. It has many comedic elements, and has some great dramatic sequences as well. They all play well, and while I still would not give him a ton of credit, I was very impressed by Helm's first-time effort. His writing feels vibrant and fresh, and in a film industry with absolutely little originality or thought, it is just great that movies like this slip through and get green-lighted. Every piece of dialogue and background feels well expressed, and just play out astonishingly well. On the topic of Crick however, I liked the idea of how neurotic and obsessive Crick was over numbers, but I thought it was a bit of an overkill to include special effect shots showing the numbers being counted within his head. It felt silly in The Da Vinci Code, so why did Sony feel the need to add it here too?

On that note, much like my being impressed by Adam Sandler from time to time, Ferrell really pulls through here, and does give the best performance of his short career. The psychological trauma that his character goes through is evident in his facial and body emotions, and the way he conveys it on screen is nowhere near what I would have expected. He brings an amazing sense of what this character is really about, and gives him a poignancy that makes him so life-like that it becomes almost too great to explain. This is a pathetically sad man who you cannot help but pull for as the film goes on. And for all the right reason too. He may deliver some of the funniest lines in the movie, but he is totally mature and at ease in this role. Thankfully this means that he stays serious for the most part throughout the film, and does not let any Ricky Bobby or Ron Bergundy slip out. He could have easily blown it, but thankfully, manages to stay in check.

Thompson is another particular standout, especially in contrast to Ferrell. She is broken and weak, searching for the perfect ending. The pain and sorrow that goes through her face as she writes and thinks has a poetic excellence to it, and she only continues to prove how good of an actor she is. Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah work well in supporting roles, supporting Ferrell and Thompson respectively as the film progresses on. Hoffman has always had great comedic timing, and he does not let it go to waste here. He plays right off of Ferrell in grand ways, and just feels totally at home in the role. Latifah, while not in the film so much, is very good in her bit parts. Maggie Gyllenhaal also shines here, and clearly has the makings for an Oscar sometime in the late future.

For its small problems, Fiction still is able to prove its worth, and is clearly one of the best films of the year. It will be able to stand proud among the other entries in the existential comedy genre, or just stand proud on its own. Helm's screenplay coupled in with an intoxicatingly great performance by Ferrell make for a great trip to the movies. And sure beats some of the crap that's been released over the past few weeks.

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Detailed, Astute, Eclectic, and Entertaining Pseudo-Comedy
WriterDave19 November 2006
"Stranger than Fiction" is the complex tale of a simple IRS man named Harold Crick (an appealing Will Ferrel) who one day awakes to his own voice-over narration only to find he is the unwitting main character in the new tragic novel from acclaimed author Karen Eiffel (an excellent return to form for Emma Thompson). Imagine a Charlie Kaufman penned film where all the cynicism and nihilism is replaced with an endearing and heartfelt melancholy that creates a surprising amount of emotional involvement in characters who would've otherwise been over-reaching literacy devices, and you'll get a feel for the sincere type of entertainment Marc Forster's film provides.

Forster, with his keen eye and eclectic visual sense, populates the film the sharp and contrasting visual angles, camera tricks, and in-frame oddities (like the play with numbers) constantly keeping the viewer engaged and on their toes. Fun supporting turns from Dustin Hoffman as a literary theorist employed by Krick to help find out if the story he is in is a comedy or tragedy, and Queen Latifah as Eiffel's no-nonsense publishing assistant help guide the viewers through imaginative stretches that are occasionally too clever by half. Ferrel gets to show some nice range here, and much like Robin Williams did with "The World According to Garp" and Jim Carrey did with "The Truman Show," graduates with honors into more high-minded quasi-serious roles. His co-lead Thompson is subtly method and well studied as the reclusive sociopathic author who just can't help killing her characters.

What really seals the deal is Maggie Gyllenhal as Farrell's love interest, the anti-establishment baker he is assigned to audit. She literally lights up the screen. There's one expertly framed and perfectly lit shot of her standing outside her townhouse inviting Farrel in for the night where the light from street lamp off screen is filtered in through the shadows of tree branches and hits her face in such a way that in that brief flickering frame you become insanely happy to be watching such a pleasant marriage of literary concepts inside a visual medium. At this point you don't care how the film ends. You're just grateful to experience that giddy moment of pure movie entertainment.
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A Must See!
lsmelton28 October 2006
This movie was such a great surprise! I saw this at an advanced screening just days after suffering through Marie Antoinette. What a pleasant escape! The cast did an outstanding job. Who doesn't love Will Ferrell, but to see him in this role gives me a whole new level of respect for him as an actor. He simply shines on screen! Maggie Gyllenhaal is a delight. Emma Thompson is brilliant as always. Simply wonderful! The writing was terrific. It was so nice to see a movie that could make you laugh and think (not too hard) at the same time. Direction was well done as well - it was even visually appropriate.

Go see it and take a friend. You will laugh and be happy for a change after leaving a movie.
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Clever intellectual wizardry
Chris_Docker9 December 2006
What if you only realised the importance of your life only days before you lost it? Even knowing when or how you will die (not such a fatuous idea with the completion of the Genome Project) raises difficult questions about how much we really want to know about ourselves.

Such a theme is usually simplified and subsumed into religious-based tales such as It's a Wonderful Life, but taken as an idea in its own right it has considerable intellectual weight. Harold Crick finds himself the main character in a story as it unfolds, but his annoyance quickly shifts gear as he is aware of the author saying, "Little did he know . . . it would lead to his imminent death."

Not the mindless comedy that the trailer suggests, Stranger Than Fiction is a precise and fairly cerebral story where the laughs stem more from individually appreciating certain aspects of its cleverness rather than any contrived humour.

The surface story is of a man who lives a humdrum if 'successful' life and is awakened to a more three dimensional existence by falling in love. The additional elements will either delight or annoy. IRS auditor Crick (Will Ferrell) starts hearing a voice in his head. It is that of Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a famous author. She describes exactly what he is doing but with a rather better vocabulary than he possesses. When she announces his imminent death, he takes drastic steps to meet her and persuade her to change the ending of her novel.

The characterisation, casting and acting is spot-on. Thompson is at her most refreshingly deranged as the harassed and reclusive author. With a literary equivalence of method acting, Eiffel balances on the edge of her desk trying to imagine the thoughts of someone about to make a suicide jump. She sits in the freezing drizzle watching cars cross a bridge to imagine an accident. Her rants at her 'editorial assistant' (who uses more traditional methods of accessing imagination) give a convincing insight into the creative process. While the voice in Crick's head is stereotypical Thompson, the fuller, isolated character, when we meet her, is a minor revelation. "I don't need a nicotine patch," she declaims angrily to her assistant. "I smoke cigarettes."

Maggie Gyllenhaal, as law drop-out turned baker Ana Pascal, sparkles, glows and is sexily alluring and radiant with passionate love of life - and she manages to light up the screen faster than, say, even Juliette Binoche in Chocolat. Dustin Hoffman has the least challenging of the main parts, but he endows his character (an eminent professor of literature) with the gravitas needed to take ideas of literary interconnectedness seriously. Will Ferrell gives a remarkable break-out performance in a straight role, reminiscent of Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. He is superbly suited to the part as audiences expect him to be a shallow comedy character and here he is trying the find the substantial person inside himself. Most of the audience are concentrating so much on the film's intricate hypothesis and how it is worked out, that only afterwards do we realise what a range of emotions Ferrell has to portray with complete seriousness.

Novelist Kay Eiffel (Thompson) anthropomorphises things like Crick's watch (similarly the official website says, in real time, "As the cursor waited anxiously for the site to load, it couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of elation.") We sense a life-imbuing process that might even be likened to what an actor does with his character; but the film goes a stage further by drawing a similarity with the essentially lifeless, clockwork existence of the IRS auditor whose only escape is discovering love with Pascal. His quest is aided by fictional plot analysis from Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) and of course begs the question, what is fiction?

Director Marc Forster showed consummate skill in portraying the positive escapism of JM Barrie's creative Peter-Pan-writing in Finding Neverland. With Stranger Than Fiction, he has teamed up with brilliant new dramatist Zach Helm. Helm is fascinated with the writing process in what he calls a larger Post-Modern movement. "From Pirandello, to Brecht, to Wilder, to Stoppard, to Woody Allen to Wes Anderson, we can see the progression of a contemporary, self-aware, reality-bending and audience-involving wave in dramatic literature," he says. "I love to see Homer Simpson reacting to his creator, Matt Groenig, or the cast of 'Urinetown' complaining from the stage about their own title."

Even the street names, business names, and the characters' last names of Stranger Than Fiction are significant – Crick, Pascal, Eiffel, Escher, Banneker, Kronecker, Cayly, etc. are all puns on mathematicians who focused on the innate order of things. The invitation is to ask what is beyond the symmetry of things.

Stranger Than Fiction meets even its most formidable challenge - making the ending nail-biting and moving after such surreal content. But the ultimate message of the film seems a little trite if it is supposedly coming from a groundbreaking author. Like the glimpses of Eiffel's book, we are given impressive mountains of style but little substance. As the film doesn't press the strengths forcefully by admitting in so many words what it is getting at, there is a chance you may not bother with the subtleties - in which case it adds up to very little.

A superb testament to inventiveness and worthy of awards in many different categories, Stranger Than Fiction somehow falls short of being a masterpiece.
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TIFF Screening
grissomsbutterfly101310 September 2006
Saw it at The Toronto International Film Festival and it was well done. Original storyline, fantastic performance from Ferrel, Thompson and Hoffman. The most moving performance from Will Ferrel I have ever seen is within this film. The storyline some may believe to be too far fetched at first to take seriously, but in the end it does work. What makes the film work the most are the brilliant performances from Ferrel and Thompson. Without these two- the film couldn't have been pulled off! I recommend this flick to anyone looking to laugh and cry and then laugh again. It was a truly brilliant film. 10/10 (Hoffman and Ferrel were too kind to shake hands and greet the fans inside the screening as well.)
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What if your life really WAS a book?
babsbnz5 October 2006
Fantasy movie, a la "Groundhog Day" where a man, Harold Crick in this case, finds he has no control over his life....which leads to him really appreciate his life. Although the premise is clearly fantasy, the concept is intriguing and compelling.

Cast is terrific; those who usually over-act, e.g. Dustin Hoffman and Will Ferrell, play it lower-keyed and believable. Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah and Maggie Gyllenhall (and Tom Hulce, almost unrecognizable in a single scene)round out the excellent cast .

A feel-good movie, mostly comedy but with some tragic undertones.

Close to two hours but you won't be looking at your watch very often.
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Never underestimate the genuine appeal of reality…
ElMaruecan8224 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
What an imaginative and touching story! Marc Forster's "Stranger Than Fiction", written by Zach Snyder, is a movie that could have failed in so many aspects despite its creative premise, yet the story confidently moved forward, punctuated by clever, poignant and thought-stirring twists.

And Will Ferrell's performance is integral to the film's success because he plays a nuanced and extremely restrained character who contradicts the very comical premise of the film, as soon as we think this is going to be a fantasy-farce. This is even more pleasantly surprising as Ferrell is like the Bill Murray of his generation, a SNL alumni used to madcap comedies where he plays eccentric and one-liners-throwing characters. Here, he is Harold Crick, a meek and discreet IRS agent who lives under a steady routine guided by an electronic wristwatch.

The opening voice-over narration insists that nothing special ever happened to Harold Crick... for the simple reason that he's the one controlling his life and saw no reason whatsoever to make this change. He's no Truman Burbank or "Fight Club" Narrator; he likes the minimalist scope he gave to his life for twelve years (from his Spartan house to his by-the-book ethics). But who said we've got to make our own existential crisis? One day, a voice starts narrating Crick's thought as he's brushing his teeth, there's something literary in the disembodied (female) voice he hears, Cricks stops brushing his teeth, starts again, and then the voice describes his feeling at that point. We get it, it's the story of a character who hears the narrator, and this premise is exciting enough.

But there are reasons I mentioned Bill Murray or Jim Carrey in this review, "Stranger Than Fiction" feels like one of these clever concept movies ("Groundhog Day" or "The Truman Show") but Ferrell plays the protagonist differently than Bill Murray as Phil Connors, and even Jim Carrey managed to be comical at times like giving a wink to the audience who needed at least one funny grin. Ferrell doesn't surrender to comedy no matter how comedic his situation gets, he plays his character as if something serious, like an illness, was happening. And this is a revelation, a proof that any actor, given the right story and direction, can go beyond the preconceived limits of his acting range. Adam Sandler gave me a similar impression in "Click" but the film wasn't as consistently good.

"Stranger Than Fiction" never takes its originality for granted. The narration is only the starting point, we only hear it during crucial times, and it starts being a problem when the narrator is revealed to be omniscient, and explains that a simple act Crick just committed will lead to his imminent death. It is not the word 'death' that provokes a sudden outburst of angst, but 'imminent', tragedy material. When a voice that knows everything about you or your most hidden thoughts tells you that you're going to die, well, even the most Cartesian and sensible man will be likely to believe it.

Crick goes to a psychiatrist played by Linda Hunt, she diagnoses a case of schizophrenia but suggests him to ask a literature professor. Within the twisted premise of the story, this is implacably logical, so Crick goes to Pr. Hilbert, played by Dustin Hoffman. Detached and rational, Hilbert gives him homework. Crick must determine whether he is a comedic or tragic character, one that is governed by the continuity of life or the inevitability of death. Crick must test whether he controls his storyline (or not, like a tragic character) and then tries to do whatever he wants, if his death is so inevitable. At that point, we already forgot about the narrator, and the film gets closer in themes and tone to Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's masterpieces.

Indeed, "Stranger Than Fiction" made me realize why self-referential movies are so fascinating, they have something inherently human behind entertaining plots. And the core of the story is the sweet romance between Crick and a free-spirited tattooed tax-rebel baker played by Maggie Gylenhall. When he starts auditing her, you feel the attraction, but he can't reach her heart because he's stuck up to his job, and it takes time for him to finally allow her to reach him. The chemistry feels real as there's something authentic in their performances, Ana loves what she does, and Harold, governed by the necessity to give a meaning to his seemingly meaningless life, starts doing what he loves: playing guitar, developing friendship, pleasing himself.

Ultimately, Ana falls in love with him and Crick thinks he might be in a comedy, until he finally sees the face behind the voice, it's author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) who seems to be the one pulling the strings. The trick is that she always kills off her lead characters, and the trickiest part is that Crick's life is only depending on whether she decides to kill him off or not. She shares her mental block with her editor's employee (Queen Latifah) wondering about the perfect way to kill Crick, until she realizes that he exists. The film escalates to the level of mind-bending genius (a word that has been so overused for the likes of "Inception") when she gives Crick the manuscript. Hilbert reads it and considers it a masterpiece with his death being part of that greatness. And Crick reads it and agrees.

It all comes down to a simple question: should one die just because it makes a terrific ending? This is one of the greatest narrative tricks ever pulled on screen and an existential lesson. Crick gave his meaningless life a meaning (wasn't he laughing at "The Meaning of Life" in the theater?). Maybe life can be less flashy than its dramatized version, yet as 'disappointing' as the ending was story-wise, it was deeply moving and touching in the way we connected it to our reality… and a little bit to fiction.
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Strangely Addicting
imagineer999 November 2006
With his unassuming eyes and sheepish, "awe shucks!" demeanor, Will Ferrell is quite simply the guy you root for—the eternal boy trapped in a gangly 6'3" frame. Just a single look can make you giggle and smile so effortlessly that you're often unaware that you're actually doing it. It is with this notion that Stranger than Fiction—Ferrell's first major foray into a theatrical world outside the realm of in-your-face frat boy silliness—just makes sense. By surrounding Ferrell's charisma with a subdued, darkly comic script and a talented supporting cast, we get a film that is both fresh and heartfelt.

Directed by Marc Forster and penned by Zach Helm, Stranger than Fiction is an odd mix-mash, combining a standard comedy with existentialist ideas. Number crunching IRS agent and genuine loser, Harold Crick (Ferrell) one day wakes up to find his life being narrated word for word by burnt out writer Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Odd thing is, Eiffel is writing an actual book where Crick just happens to be the main character. To make matters worse, she plans on killing him off as soon as she can make it through a particularly arduous stretch of writer's block.

Originality is one thing that is absent from a majority of contemporary Hollywood pictures, so Fiction immediately gets points for simply trying something different. I suppose it's icing on the cake that the film is genuinely good. Crick, knowing that is death is imminent, begins to break out of his cloistered shell and to experience the fruits of his life. And, in the process he forms a bond with a tax breaking baker (Gyllenhal) and seeks advice from a literature professor, played by a particularly charming Dustin Hoffman

However, even though it is well intentioned, the execution isn't flawless. The romance that develops between Gyllenhal's outcast baker and Ferrell's strait-laced Crick doesn't feel entirely organic. We admire the relationship and smile at its sugar coated sweetness, but we don't necessarily believe their connection. It may taste good, but it doesn't exactly wash down smoothly. Neither, does the film's over reliance on reinforcing generic, "Carpe Diem" philosophies. Towards the second act, things do get sappy. Luckily, by the conclusion, the plot has bounced back to a wonderful limbo of both oddly comic and genuinely heartwarming moments.

For all its flaws, Stranger than Fiction, works. Like a good novel, Forster has fashioned something that is strange, stylistic, and unexpectedly inspiring. And, despite the chinks in its existentialist armor, that's surely something worth writing home about.
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Choice against fate when fiction collides with reality.
alexander-519 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Stranger Than Fiction is a quirky black comedy about Harold Crick, an average man with a fascination and preoccupation for numbers, who discovers that he is apparently little more than a character in someone else's story and that the course of his life appears to have been scripted. Everything he does and thinks is narrated as he does and thinks it, so after the realisation that he's not actually going mad he tries to find out what is really going on.

I liked this film a lot - it had elements of similarly themed films where fictional worlds intersect and influence the real world and vice versa, such as The Hours and The Purple Rose Of Cairo. Yet it takes this concept in a new direction and touches on the philosophies of choice and fate - if the story of our lives is already written, can we change the script? Does knowing what the future holds influence our lives or are we just following a predestined course whatever we do? As you might expect Marc Foster gives good and capable direction and there are lots of elements of the film that were really very enjoyable. Some scenes are maybe drawn out too long, but for the most part he manages to keep the film flowing smoothly. The 'mathematical images' which beautifully illustrate the clockwork mind of Harold Crick are a great idea and reminiscent of the Ikea scene from Fight Club.

The acting on the whole was of an excellent standard. Will Ferrell's dry delivery was absolutely perfect for the role of a man with his fate in the hands of a seemingly unknown force. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah all give very respectable performances as does the relatively unknown Tony Hale. Yet I felt that the gem in this film had to be Emma Thompson's performance as the neurotic and fidgety author Kay Eiffel who seems to become increasingly unstrung as the film progresses.

I was lucky enough to get to see a test screening of this film tonight. I was expecting a generic Hollywood romantic comedy yet the storyline was sufficiently quirky and engaging, and performances were superb, giving it a rightful place alongside other great modern black comedies.
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Great script
keybdwizrd6 October 2006
I saw this film at the Chicago Film Festival opening last night. I went not knowing a thing about it in advance, and was pleasantly surprised. I'd suggest that people DON'T read specifics about this film before seeing it.

The story/script is fantastic - I'd be surprised if it didn't get nominated for the big original screenplay awards. It's interesting, funny, poignant, and quite charming, actually.

The casting in general is wonderful... As someone else said, Hoffman is perfectly understated... I'd never seen Maggie Gyllenhaal before, but I'm a fan after seeing this one. And Emma Thompson could see a best supporting actress nod for this film.

Sadly, I thought the film's weakest point was the casting of Will Ferrell in the lead. He's not bad by any means, but he just doesn't work at the same level as the rest of the cast. Kudos to him for what he DOES accomplish in this film, but it would've had plenty of starpower without him, and the role could've been used to showcase someone else's talent.

All in all, thumbs up.

Just my two cents.
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Helm and Forster: The New Kaufman and Jonze?
dtb25 November 2006
I saw STRANGER THAN FICTION (STF) on its opening weekend, and I think it's one of the most engaging, funny, poignant movies about writing, the creative process, and human nature I've seen since ADAPTATION. While Will Ferrell is a fave in our household, I must admit this is the first time I've seen him in a movie and thought of him as the character he's playing, not as Will Ferrell. Toning down his screechy/crazy qualities without losing his ability to make audiences laugh, Ferrell stars as unassuming IRS agent Harold Crick, who loves his job, so you know his life needs an overhaul! :-) Even Harold's curly-topped sidewall haircut seems to hint that his well-ordered life is about to dissolve into craziness. One morning, it does, amid FIGHT CLUB-style captions and the plummy, ironic tones of a British female narrator accompanying Harold's thoughts and actions in the opening scene -- narration that Harold can hear along with those of us in the audience. Our increasingly puzzled, alarmed hero soon realizes he's the protagonist in a novelist's new book-in-progress -- not just any novelist, but the reclusive Karen "Kay" Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who's been suffering from writer's block for 10 years and whose novels always end with her protagonists dying! As Kay's publisher sends compassionate but no-nonsense troubleshooter Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to help unblock her, Harold seeks help from literary professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), an expert on the problematic author's favorite phrase "Little did he know..." It might be a subject especially dear to a writer's heart (especially in gags like Hilbert questioning Harold on standard literary devices to see if he's the hero of a comedy or a tragedy: "Have you been invited to a country house and had to solve a murder?...To find out what story you're in, I have to find out what stories you're *not* in..."), but I found STF funny, touching, and playfully surreal as director Marc Forster and screenwriter Zach Helm prove to be the new Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, only with a touch of sweetness. In addition to the excellent Ferrell, Hoffman, Thompson, and Queen Latifah, the great cast includes Linda Hunt and an all-but-unrecognizable Tom Hulce as well-meaning but unhelpful psychiatrists, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ana, an anti-establishment baker who refuses to pay taxes on munitions (The Clash's "Death or Glory" plays in the background when Harold visits her bakery to audit her, only to be booed and heckled by Ana and her customers. Later, Harold wins Ana over by bringing her flours -- that's right, flours, not flowers! :-). There's nice location shooting in Chicago, too. STF is well worth heading out to a theater to see, and when it inevitably comes out on home video, it'll definitely be in the Writers' Movies section of my DVD collection alongside ADAPTATION, THE SINGING DETECTIVE, and the underrated ALEX AND EMMA!
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A missed opportunity for greatness.
Pavel-89 December 2006
As the cinematic writing debut of Zach Helm, "Stranger Than Fiction" may very well have the most creative storyline of the year. Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a nondescript IRS agent who awakes one day to hear a woman narrating much of his life. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the voice belongs to a well-known author who routinely kills her main characters in her novels. No big deal, except for the fact that he soon learns of his fate. That of course horrifies him, and he spends the majority of the film coping with that inevitability.

Unfortunately the lofty possibilities raised by such a fantastically original idea are never fully explored. "Stranger" doesn't take the time to delve into the life-and-death complexities that could arise from a man searching for the why and who behind his future demise. Nor does it address most of the unique moral questions and obligations that would arise. Instead the script settles for clichés like a typically rushed cinematic romance, premises that aren't all that bad, but are more suited to be side stories, not main arcs. These shortcomings glaringly keep Stranger from reaching the Oscar-winning level of something like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" or other Charlie Kaufman work. In fact this movie might be best described as Diet Charlie Kaufman, a pop psychological movie, a thinking movie for those who don't really want to think.

As Adam Sandler did for "Punch-Drunk Love", Will Ferrell will no doubt receive heaps of praise for his portrayal of IRS agent Harold Crick. Make no mistake, Ferrell is fine, but don't let anyone convince you this is an Oscar-worthy turn. The simple fact that he plays it straight, without getting nearly naked or over-reacting doesn't automatically create a great performance. The reality is that while he has his moments, Ferrell is the straight man in this picture, a tepid character who contrasts well with Maggie Gyllenhaal's anarchist baker Anna, Dustin Hoffman's Yoda of literature professor, and Emma Thompson's work as author Kay Eiffel, which results in the best performance in the film. She lends the part a wackiness that seems genuinely fresh, in odd, unteachable ways like how she touches both sides of a door frame when passing. She acts crazy enough but not so crazy that you sense the acting as she neurotically haggles over how she can kill off her protagonist.

In the end, "Stranger Than Fiction" is like Anna's cookies. They both taste good at the time, as the movie does have its humorous and entertaining moments, but their long term value is limited due to their lack of nutrition. Nothing here is going to linger, but if you're interested, you won't be sorry you saw it.

Bottom Line: A missed opportunity, but still worth a rental or cheap theater ticket. 6 of 10.
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Saw it this evening at the Merrill Lynch Conference
matt-120214 September 2006
I saw an advanced screening of Stranger than Fiction tonight on the Sony lot, as part of the Merrill Lynch media conference being held this week in Pasadena, CA.

I hadn't heard much about this movie prior to seeing it tonight, so I had NO expectations, which is really how I like to see a movie (without any preconceived notions, good or bad).

The movie was very well acted, and told an interesting story. I kind of look at Will Ferrell in this movie the way I looked at Adam Sandler after "Punch Drunk Love". You're not sure how to react to Ferrell/Sandler's on-screen persona's, as up to this point, you've always thought of them as the funny men, who couldn't (or wouldn't) attempt a more dramatic role. For Ferrell, who's probably at the height of his popularity, this was a good move for him, as well as an ideal role.

All in all, I really liked this movie, and I would definitely recommend it to friends/family.
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Involving Story & Great Low-Key Performance By Ferrell
ccthemovieman-15 May 2007
Most times, I find it interesting to watch a comedian pay a dramatic role. Here, will Ferrell plays an extremely straight, low-key character: an IRS agent who is part of a as strange story. Yes, the title to this movie is 100 percent accurate: "Stranger Than Fiction really describes this bizarre tale of a man whose life is being lived out as a writer of fiction stories types it up. In other words, the fiction writer's main character is a real-life guy.

Emma Thompson comes out of semi-retirement to play the role of "Karen Eiffel," a writer whose novels always end up with the hero getting killed. Also, she narrates the story to the lead character, who is the only one who can actually hear her voice. Slowly, as the story unravels, her latest subject, a "Harold Crick" (Farrell) discovers what is going on and tries to get her to change the ending! Along the way, in a secondary part of the film (the romance angle), "Crick" becomes involved with the unlikeliest of women: "Asa Pascal" (Maggie Gyllenhall).

Crick also makes a new friend who is an expert on authors. He seeks him out because that guy, "Professor Jules Hilbert," (Dustin Hoffman) is the one who helps him discover whom the author is, the person who plans to kill him off. (It's not easy to explain all of this in a handful of sentences, written off the cuff. Sorry.)

This all may sound like a suspenseful thriller but it isn't. It's a human-interest story which could have many interpretations. I read a few long reviews (not here) on this movie afterward and got two very diverse viewpoints: one with religious overtones and other totally secular. I didn't read anything into this except it being an interesting and original screenplay and well- acted.

Ferrell was outstanding in his performance. I'm not really a fan of his irreverent comedies but I was very impressed with him in this movie. The only unlikable character was Thompson's but she comes around with a nice touch near the end.

If you are looking for something different, and something to get your brain working a little bit, this is recommended. For those expecting the normal Will Ferrell wackiness, stay away: it's hardly that. I hate to use the cliché phrase "thought-provoking," but I think it applies here.
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One of the best films I have seen in a long time
Janky_Wank7 January 2007
This movie is billed as a comedy in trailers and it's choice of cast supports this idea. The fact is this movie is one of the most tear jerking movies I have ever seen.

This movie starts out with a humorous tone similar to READING "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Gallaxy" and slowly you start to feel for the main characters and understand how sad they are. Unlike a great deal of movies that are sad this one does not deliver a punch at the end to get the viewers crying. It starts much earlier.

I spent most of my time fighting off tears while watching this movie but I could not tear myself away. It took me a bit to recover after the end and all I could say is "Wow."

The casting for this movie could not have been any better. Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson all delivered some of the best acting seen for years. Will Ferrell in particular has followed many comedy actors like Robin Williams and proves that he is more than a slapstick joker.

This movie needs some awards, big time. I personally would give this Best actor - Will Ferrel and Best Screenplay.
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One of my top ten movies I love
juanitakmarshall10 June 2018
I keep coming back to the movie to watch again and again since it was released. A true timeless quiet treasure.
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seaview16 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Marc Forster is making a name for himself with such major films as Monsters Ball and Finding Neverland. In Stranger Than Fiction, he takes a plot that could have been suggested by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) and creates a world that suggests fantasy yet is grounded in what we call reality. It is an inventive plot made convincing by sensitive direction and fine performances by its stars, Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

IRS civil servant Harold Crick (Ferrell) leads a regimented, mundane existence, which consists of an orderly routine guided by his punctual wristwatch. His solitary life becomes upset by the presence of a female voice that seems to be narrating his every move. His daily rituals are altered and, when he audits a baker, a free spirited activist named Ana Pascal (Gyllenhaal), he meets stiff resistance and hostility. Compelled to find the answers to the mysterious voice, he first consults the company shrink (Tom Hulce in a welcome, yet short performance), a therapist (Linda Hunt in too brief a role), and finally a literary professor, Dr. Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman in bravura support). It is with Dr. Hilbert that Harold finds hope and a methodology to solve the puzzle of the narrative voice.

At the same time, famed author, Kay Eiffel, is trying to finish her latest novel about a taxman who is hearing voices. When she struggles to find a suitable end for her character (all her principal characters are killed off in her books), a publisher's assistant arrives in the name of Penny Escher (Queen Latifah wasted in a pedestrian part). Harold visits Ana for a followup audit and becomes smitten and attracted by her perky charm. As he audits her maze of disorganized tax documents, Ana begins to feel bad for the poor soul and gives him a sort of peace offering of homemade cookies, and thus their relationship grows. His visits with Dr. Hilbert begin to narrow the possible sources of his affliction until one day he stumbles on the answer and in doing so, he realizes that his life is predestined. His life out of kilter, Harold begins to break out of his quiet shell and experience life's interesting aspects. Kay's mental block soon gives way and when she finishes her novel and is ready to type the manuscript, Harold tracks her down using some creative ingenuity. She too has realized some incredible connection between her story and his real life. When Dr. Hilbert reads the final manuscript, his conclusions are a stunner to Harold. How Harold and Kay respond to this is what winds the film to a tense conclusion.

The dialogue is funny at times and always interesting. There are traces of other films like Groundhog Day, Field of Dreams or an episode of The X Files that will come to mind. The movie touches on the concepts of fate and destiny without being too obvious-perhaps it should have been more obvious come to think of it. Do we control our lives or are we part of some other plan or manuscript (like The Matrix)? The concept of 'cause and effect' and of randomness figures heavily in the overall theme of the film.

Harold is a sort of distant cousin to Forrest Gump complete with an innocent perspective on life. His character works because his persona changes throughout the film and when he faces his fears and desires head on, his life begins to move forward in ways he never imagined. He is starting to live life. And when he finds out his fate, he makes a big decision that brings his character full circle.

Harold's watch becomes a kind of supporting character, as it serves as a catalyst for him and Ana to bond, but it is used too sparingly at times. There is a slight feeling that the filmmakers did not have enough confidence in the fantasy part to match the reality which is well done. Too bad, as the film steadily progresses in its story and etches some interesting characters. It also gets a bit confusing as to why a couple of characters pop in and out briefly, and you know it's for some reason that becomes more evident by the climax.

The movie is at its best when Harold warms up to Ana, and the two begin a courtship that is affecting and genuine. In this, Gyllenhaal and Ferrell shine. Will Ferrell has always been a dependable comic from his Saturday Night Live years, but here, he successfully portrays a shy, passive man complete with blank expressions and awkward body language. Hoffman has his most significant role in years since his brief but memorable turn in Foster's previous Finding Neverland. And Gyllenhaal proves adept as a romantic lead.

Forster is becoming a modern day teller of fables. In Stranger Than Fiction he spins a simple tale (written by Zach Helm) of love, life, and fate with a moral that is redemptive and refreshing. Not everyone will connect with this film; I suspect that the romantics out there will.
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Unavoidably Dead
tedg25 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is something of a failed project because the last two of the three acts are stunted.

The first act concerns our hero discovering that in addition to being 'real," he is a fictional character of a writer in the same reality.

Unfortunately, someone decided that this should be lengthened and exaggerated because of the comedic benefit. I am sure the project did not start out this way.

The second act is the most powerful in terms of the folding. Here we learn of the beauty of his independence, but that the book with his death is "so beautiful" that he really should die to preserve the beauty of the work. The laborious introduction of Hoffman's character in the first act is so that he can render this judgment. Its pretty powerful stuff, and after reading the book with his own death, our hero agrees.

The third act is a sort of resolution based on the realities of big movie requirements for a happy ending, with the guy getting the magnificently appealing girl. But its rushed and something of a mess. Its obviously grafted on. The narrative connections are broken; the rhythm is all wrong. While Emma's book is declared "not very good," the movie is pulled the same way in an ultimate folding.

Well, I guess we should celebrate any sort of overt folding in films, even second-rate ones.

I have to remark that Hoffman is the best I have seen him since "Rosencrantz." He used to be a fine actor. And Maggie, whose character makes delicious things, is herself a delicious confection.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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One of my favourite movies of all time
suze-426 March 2017
If you haven't seen it, you are in for a treat. Don't read any spoilers, just see it. I've seen it several times and it never gets old. It is a fabulous movie and I don't want to ruin it by saying anything. I give it my highest rating which means it could not be improved.

Perfect casting, acting, plot, suspense, comedy, drama, music. Stunningly good. There are so many bland, offensive, or unwatchable comedies out there. This is not one of those. This is a masterpiece. It has tremendous heart.
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Deadly fiction
jotix10029 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Marc Forster, a man whose work we have admired before, has scored a major triumph with "Stranger Than Fiction". It helps he decided to tackle the amazing screen play that Zach Helm wrote for this project. Both men show to compliment one another in a winning film that unfortunately suffered at the box office. It's hard to imagine how the movie didn't attract more people because it deserves a viewing from anyone that considers to be a cinema fan. Part of the blame seems to be the perception that the lead actor, Will Farrell, was expected to deliver a character that was funny like most of the ones he had given in other vehicles.

Harold Crick is a man so meticulous he even counts the brush strokes he applies to his teeth every time he cleans them. He seems to be the right person for an IRS inspector. He is a joyless man whose life is numbers and audits. He has an incredible mind for multiplication, and yet, why is his life the mess it is? When Harold begins hearing the voice that seems to be narrating his life, he unravels. Harold decides to consult experts to try to help him getting to the bottom of what he is experiencing. Alas, the professionals he consults, never can give him an answer. It's only when he stumbles into a university professor who, upon hearing a phrase Harold has heard in his mind, to interest Prof. Hilbert to come to aid him.

It is at this time that one gets to realize that Harold Crick is a character out of the fiction of a reclusive writer, Karen Eiffel, a woman whose distinction is the ability to kill all her main characters in the novels she writes. The problem is that Karen is suffering from an acute problem of writer's block. In fact, she doesn't know how to kill this Harold Crick, who becomes her obsession. Karen Eiffel's life is a mess. Not even when Penny Escher comes to help her get out of her rut can she get out of her funk.

Harold, who finds himself losing the control he has always possessed, is rendered helpless when he goes to do an audit on Ana Pacal, a young woman who owes the IRS and refuses to file a return. Little by little, Harold comes to depend on his meetings with Ana, who in turn, sees all the goodness in the man she started hating. It's when Harold discovers he has found love that he decides to fight for his life and decides to confront the woman who seems to be pulling the strings that make him be who he is.

Will Farrell makes a wonderful contribution to the film. Like other comic actors, Mr. Farrell has to play against type in order to show his talent. This versatile actor should play more serious roles and break out of the mold his career was up to this point. Emma Thompson's Karen Eiffel is one of her best creations. She captured the world in which the author she portrays inhabits. Dustin Hoffman adds another layer of texture to the film with his Professor Hilbert. Maggie Gylenhaal seems to be a natural for the sunny Ana Pascal. Queen Latifah plays Penny Escher effortlessly. She's a marvelous addition in any film. Others seen in minor roles are Linda Hunt and Tom Hulce who do wonders with their small contributions.

Roberto Schaefer's cinematography offers a wonderful view of the Chicago where the film is supposed to take place. Ultimately it's Marc Forster for bringing all the elements together in this sunny and positive film.
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Not a Ferrell fan but I loved this movie
joebaca@yahoo.com29 July 2007
One of the reasons I use this web site is to get the input of real movie fans. I saw this movie rated at an 8 and I couldn't believe a Will Ferrell movie would rate that highly. This movie is worth a 9+. This is a movie that makes you consider who you are and why you exist, and what you are doing to make this a better place. The screen writer, Will Ferrell, the Queen and the whole cast makes this a movie I will buy and share with my friends.

I hate Will Ferrell, but I will recommend this movie to anyone who will listen.

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Drearier Than Reality
GoatPoda12 November 2006
I found myself staring at the screen in "Stranger Than Fiction" and waiting for something imaginative to happen. And it never did. I found myself daydreaming about how hysterical the outtakes must have been between such strong performers as Ferrell, Hoffman, Latifah, Thompson, and Gyllenthaal. But I sensed no magic. Now there are those who have praised this film as a mind bending experience akin to "The Truman Show", or "Adaptation". Whatever. Those were films that delighted their audience while challenging concepts of movie watching. It is not too smart, come on. Did the bakery anarchist need to drop out of HARVARD LAW SCHOOL for us to respect her? Amateurish. And Director Marc Forster paints his images in sepia dreary browns and rainy days. The professor MUST be a PROFESSOR because he drinks lots of coffee and has lots of books. The writer must be a WRITER because she chain smokes and thinks of DEATH. And poor Queen Latifah must have been standing around holding her umbrella wondering how she got in this boring movie in role that has her playing a modernized mammy. I blame a wasted two hours of my Saturday night on Marc Forster who did great work in the past, but here strived for something that didn't happen. Who hires Will Ferrell, puts min in a surreal comedy and asks him to act dull and boring the entire time? I hope others don't go see this film looking for a Will Ferrell comedy in a Charlie Kaufman script because they will be sadly disappointed.
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Brilliant concept, disappointing execution
kaethe11 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The premise for this film excited me; at first glance, I even thought it might have been a Charlie Kaufman screenplay. (No, turns out it's by a first-time screenwriter. Inspired by Charlie Kaufman, perhaps?) The trailer reassured me that there was hope for an original story and an enjoyable movie experience. I commented that the trap to avoid here would be the "hero discovers how meaningless his life is and undergoes a transformation into a new, more interesting person" cliché; if the filmmakers could avoid that and give us some original character development, we might just have a great film.

I'm disappointed to report that they did not avoid that trap. True, the transformation wasn't quite as over-the-top as it is in some films, but it did rely heavily on ever-greater interaction with the love interest, a more casual wardrobe, a hip song performance, and a handful of other overused vehicles that scream "Look at me! I'm a character with an ARC!" Beyond that, the characters lacked the kind of likability it usually takes to rally the audience behind their development anyway. When the success of a story hinges on the audience caring about whether the hero lives or dies, the audience had better want him to live. Instead, I felt resigned to the idea that he might die and idly interested in what might happen next. In other words, the filmmakers never really reached me.

The dryness of the humor, the attempts at stylish special effects, the offbeat nature of the story, the pacing of it all -- these are all hallmarks of films I love and should have been an easy "in" for the filmmakers with a viewer like me. Instead, I found myself bored by the cloying attempts to merely imitate great films rather than to invent something truly new and original.

For example, the side plot involving Emma Thompson as the novelist and Queen Latifah as her seen-it-all assistant sent by the publisher was as tired as it was tiresome. Emma Thompson was, as usual, more than competent in her role, but to what end? Even she couldn't elevate the quality of this effort.

And however refreshing it should have been to see Will Ferrell take on a role with more substance than he had to work with in, say, Anchorman or Bewitched, the material here too often gave him miserably little to work with. The audience is left watching Ferrell brush his teeth while we have the nagging sense it's supposed to be funny.

It should be noted that I saw this film in a theater that must have been full of forgiving Ferrell fans, because there were titters at many of these awkward, un-funny, mundane scenes. If you're a die-hard Ferrell fan, maybe it's worth the price of admission to laugh at Ferrell as he ties his necktie and brushes his teeth. If you're a more casual fan of Ferrell's, you might want to wait and rent this one. And if you're Ferrell-ambivalent, give this a miss.
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Less than meets the eye
brefane23 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Essentially trite whimsy. Ferrel is appropriate enough, the rest of the cast is appealing and the film is amusing and quirky: It's all those words reviewers love to use... but, after the first hour I began to wonder where it's all going. The premise is interesting, if unoriginal, and the set design etc... all cleverly done (the bakery shop's window is designed like a watch) but, the film ultimately doesn't deliver and unravels at the point it should come together. A build up to something that doesn't come off and a descent into a feel good bit of whimsy:the film equivalent of cookies and milk. "It's a Wonderful Life" for a new generation.

Stranger Than Fiction is one of those movies people say has to be seen twice to fully understand and/or appreciate, unfortunately, I don't think the film is worth a second look. However, if you're a fan of the actors involved and/or films like PROVIDENCE,THE TRUMAN SHOW, ADAPTATION,'s worth a look. Individual scenes work nicely but, ultimately, the film disappoints, and evaporates in the memory. As a puzzle it has too many pieces and it's not worth putting together.
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Theological Symbolism?
mattster524 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Did anyone else see strong theological symbolism in this? I admit I see theological symbolism in most things because I'm a theology student, but it seems a little too clear in this case to be accidental. The author is a pretty clear God character - omnipotent (at least in relation to Crick), unreachable/reclusive, etc.

Hoffman's character is a sort of loose Schleiermacherian Jesus figure, who is merely human himself but can direct Ferrell to "God." Still, it is a step that Ferrell actually takes himself. It is also interesting that Hoffman does not actually know the God figure, yet is respectful. His role as a lifeguard is also interesting, but perhaps most interesting is that in the end he is rooting for Crick to die. This may make him more of a bodhisattva figure, and there is other evidence for this, but this view also would not be inconsistent with a typical Hollywood portrayal of the Jesus figure.

Finally, Crick's conversion, which seems to me to be the point of the movie, is also fascinating. It bears some marks of Buddhist self denial, yet his conversion doesn't result in peaceful release but a new zest and appreciation for "banal" existence, it is a transformation rather than a release. There is also the imagery of the apple, which seems like a fairly strong reference to the Garden of Eden. His life before he meets the God figure is just preparation to die, but it becomes meaningful (even retroactively meaningful) after he submits to "God's" plan (which is objectively good) and "God" mercifully saves him. It is interesting, however, that he comes to "God," rather than the other way around. Partly because of this, Crick also makes a sort of Jesus figure himself, especially in his sacrifice, which causes "God" to relent (she even changes to a gentler appearance). This sacrifice also notably spares another human being. If you look at it this way, Hoffman then becomes a kind of Holy Spirit figure.

Anyway, this is a fascinating and enjoyable look at life, death, and fate. I think the structure primarily relies on Christian imagery, but you could make a case for Buddhism as well. I will definitely watch it again. I still haven't entirely figured out the role of the watch.
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