- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
et’s be perfectly clear right up front: this is not your older brother’s Will Ferrell movie. “Stranger than Fiction” doesn’t contain a single pratfall or butt shot (well, actually it does, but it’s not Ferrell’s), and is more snicker-snicker funny than ROTFLMAO funny. Most critics will draw comparisons to “The Truman Show,” and it’s an apt one in several ways, not the least of which is the fact that each movie features the first dramatic lead by a comedian. A better comparison, though, would be “I Heart Huckabees,” David O. Russell’s delightfully loony movie about one man’s hunt for the self.
Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, an IRS auditor who deals in numbers and little else. He counts his steps to the bus, the number of times he brushes each of his teeth, and even ties his tie in a single Windsor knot because of the time it’ll save him over the course of a year. On the other side of town is Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), an author with a nasty case of writer’s block that is preventing her from coming up with a way to kill the lead character in her latest novel…whose name is Harold Crick, and has the exact same life as the real-life Harold. Before long, the real Harold begins to hear Karen’s voice serving as a narrator for everything that happens to him, and that understandably freaks him out. Then one day, Kay’s narration tells him that events are in motion that will lead to his imminent death, and Harold decides to find his narrator and change the ending to the story of his life before it’s too late.
Talk about walking a fine, fine line, but “Stranger than Fiction” straddles the border between tragedy and comedy rather well. The movie wisely acknowledges that the laughs are best served with a wink and a nod than a rim shot and a laugh track, and while this may come as a shock to those expecting the movie to be a barrel of laughs simply because of Ferrell’s presence, it’s the smart play. Harold isn’t a loner because he’s socially retarded so much as he’s a loner because he’s never given himself the option of living any other way. There’s a big difference, and thankfully Ferrell gets that. Of course, I still don’t think there’s any way in hell that Harold has anything other than an antagonistic relationship with Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the baker that he’s been assigned to audit. But it’s Hollywood; there’s always a little pixie dust to be found somewhere in a movie.
There are several other things about “Stranger than Fiction” that are worthy of discussion, but I fear that even bringing them up would be tantamount to spoiling the movie, which I am loath to do. So let’s leave it at this: the movie, like life, has no simple answers, and for the first time ever, a Will Ferrell movie will not only make you laugh, but make you think. If it means I don’t have to see him in tighty whiteys ever again, I’m all for it.
Special Edition Blu-Ray Review:
The single-disc release of “Stranger Than Fiction” is essentially a carbon copy of the original DVD, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The bonus material was already pretty good to begin with, including deleted/extended scenes, two audio commentaries, and production featurettes covering everything from casting (“Actors in Search of a Story”) to filming (“On Location in Chicago”). The best of the bunch, however, is a 17-minute visual effects featurette (“Picture a Number”) dedicated to the unique Graphic User Interface that appears throughout the film. This part of the film was sorely underappreciated during its initial release, and it’s nice to see the guys who worked so hard to bring it to life finally get the credit they deserve.