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STRANGER THAN FICTION, 2006
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STRANGER THAN FICTION,    MOVIE POSTERSTRANGER THAN FICTION, 2006
Movie Reviews

Directed by Marc Forster
Starring: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, Tom Hulce, Linda Hunt
Review by Anthony Suen


SYNOPSIS:

Harold Crick leads an organized, numerical life. He counts his brushstrokes, his steps to work, and his wristwatch is always on time. But when he starts hearing a voice in his head, and it turns out to be just more than him, Haroldís life suddenly goes awry, unorganized and spontaneous. With this voice narrating his life, his feelings, and apparently his future, Harold must find a way to escape the story he thinks he is part of, or face something he could never dream of.

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REVIEW:

A Will Ferrell movie seems to always consist of the same noticeable elements with each one he does. Sometimes itís his distinctive hairstyle, graphic and violent humour, or just Ferrell being a dolt on camera. Not to say any of that is bad, though it does get him a bad rap every so often with films like Semi-Pro or Blades of Glory. Still, he is an audienceís actor, and his main purpose is to make an audience react. He does it through laughter, and heís been doing well for almost a decade.

So the main thing you expect from a film like Stranger than Fiction even before seeing it isónaturallyóa Will Ferrell movie. It was quite refreshing and quite surprising that I got nothing of the sort. Instead I got a window into the versatility that Ferrell presents with this film, along with a captivating story and a feeling you get after watching it that resembles the very emotions that these characters feel on screen.

Stranger than Fiction is obviously a very character-driven film. It relies on the interactions between key characters to set the tone for the rest of the film. Ironic, since in the film Harold Crick finds out that the plot of his story always ends up finding him. It is not only Ferrellís performance that catches my eye; Maggie Gyllenhaal is written in as a stubborn and passionately angry baker, insulted at Crickís play into government conspiracy, being an IRS agent. While Ferrellís character is reserved, quiet and productive, Ana (Gyllenhaal) provides a more chaotic and spontaneous voice to the film, which progresses into Crickís life in more ways than one.

Using metafiction as a plot device was a clever idea, not only because it allows so many possibilities for an original story, but because audiences will be more inclined to follow it. If this is a story within a story, then our character, Crick, is as much of an audience as we are, and we get to see whether he gets to the end or not. It doesnít seem compelling when described, but when watching the film, it keeps you glued to your seat.

Plus, anyone thatís seen any other Will Ferrell film will be caught off-guard at once. This isnít ordinary Will Ferrell. No wacky wigs, loud shouting, or graphic slapstick. No unbelievable situations (compared to this film) or stupid characters. Ferrell plays a regular man, leading a regular life, and begins to get surrounded by irregularities. Itís honest acting on Farrellís account and it works. Once this settles in, Farrell thrives in his new, subtler environment with effectiveness, and he certainly carries the film forward with his performance.

But the main factor with Stranger than Fiction is its relationship between narrator and character. It may have been done before, but itís never been done with so much humour or relevance. With Emma Thompson being the source of this god-like voice, it is never a bore to see Haroldís reactions to her various descriptions or predictions about his life. As the film progresses, Thompsonís narration turns out to be from not a god-like source, but rather a literary one. Haroldís own quest to discover the source of this voice in his head and to get some very important answers regarding her narration is more than enough to make for an enjoyable experience.

But of course, there is another person you need to make this story work. Dustin Hoffman plays Professor Jules Hilbert, the helpful mentor who provides Harold with some guidance on the nature of his narrator and story he is apparently apart of. There is the love interest, the mentor, the sidekick in Haroldís very own wristwatch, maybe even an antagonist, though itís hard to antagonize anyone in this film since they are all likeable enough. Anaís change of heart of Haroldís change of attitude; thereís enough symbolism in this film to pick apart into analysis, but it seems unnecessary. Thereís enough of this film on the surface to make you smile, let alone below it.

All the characters are enjoyable to watch, the plot is enjoyable to follow, and the whole movie is a blast to witness. Itís not a Will Ferrell film, which is great since it provides a refreshing and different feeling from his usual movies. While it doesnít get critical acclaim, the whole cast is honest and effective and the storytelling is much more fun than it should be. Itís another one of those films that you seem to pass off after watching it once, but it never gets told once you stumble onto it again. And that is never a bad thing.

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