DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: STRANGER THAN FICTION

Tuesday 15 May 2007


Stranger Than Fiction (2006) dir. Marc Forster
Starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman


Kaufman-esque is one of the new buzz words in Hollywood, in reference to the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, author of “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich”. It refers to the brand of self-deprecating geek-wit that Mr. Kaufman puts into all his films, usually depicting a meek insecure protagonist who is thrust into a fantasy world which looks inward upon one’s self. If M.C. Escher wrote a screenplay it would likely be “Kaufman-esque”.

Saying that, “Stranger Than Fiction” is a Kaufman-esque film about Harold Crick, a left-brained accountant who works for the IRS, who, during his normal mundane highly-regimented daily routine (which he calculates down to the number of steps to the bus stop) he starts hearing inside his head a woman narrating his exact movements. Crick spends his subsequent days in complete discombobulation not just because of the constant chatter in his head, but the fact that it takes him off his routine. This is merely an annoyance until he discovers the author/narrator intends to kill off her character, which sends Crick on a mission to find and stop the author from doing so.

The voice in his head is Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) a writer who’s writing her first novel in 10 years – a novel that will surely be another masterpiece/best seller which will put her back on top the literary world. But somehow Eiffel’s writings get connected to Crick’s life. Crick cleverly employs a literary expert (the typical Dustin Hoffman role now) to determine who the author could be and what kind of novel he’s been written into.

During this search, Crick, who has been assigned to audit a liberal café owner, Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), has fallen in love. Ana and Crick’s courtship is lovely and fresh and despite their political difference the two opposite attract and start dating. It’s the best part of the film.

I found several key fundamental faults in the writing. Firstly I didn’t see any discernible reason why Eiffel got connected to Crick. Harold Crick clearly had something to learn from the experience of losing control of his life – in the end he became less dependent on his routine, and learned to live life more in the moment. But Karen Eiffel remains a mystery. The idea of divine intervention as a way of connecting two random people together in the way the film has is fascinating, but God always has to have a plan. What is ‘God’s” motivation to choose Eiffel? And what does Eiffel learn the experience? We never know.

Queen Latifah who plays the woman assigned by the publisher to ensure Eiffel finishes her book is a wasted character. She has no other role in the film than to give Emma Thompson some dialogue to play off of. And as far as an uptight company woman, she’s badly miscast.

Only the love story with Ferrell and Gyllenhaal kept me interested. Other than that, it was a Kaufman imitation with some wasted talent behind it. Perhaps only Kaufman can do Kaufman-esque.

Buy it here: Stranger Than Fiction


Anonymous said...

I agree about Queen Latifah's relative pointless role other than a foil for Emma Thompson's character, but I think you missed the boat on what Eiffel learned from the experience. The movie very clearly showed her to be morbid, if not depressed, constantly thinking about suicide for her characters and through them herself. She does finish her book, but rather than write the masterpiece she could have, she changes the ending to let Harold live. It is the first book in which her main characer survives, and by extension she has learned a powerful life-affirming lesson for herself in meeting a man who would so selflessly give up his life knowing it was to happen to save someone else's.

elkit said...

It didn't even occur to me to demand that God have a plan. I just accepted the premise, "what if my perfectly good reality was someone else's fiction", suspended my disbelief, and got happily lost in the story.

Anonymous said...

You can suspend disbelief all you want, but desiring a movie with three-dimensional characters who change and grow is not the same thing as (nor as unreasonable as) "demanding that God have a plan."