Stranger Than Fiction
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Marc Forster
scr Zach Helm
with Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Tony Hale, Tom Hulce, Kristin Chenoweth, Linda Hunt, Eli Goodman, Denise Hughes, Julie Hilgendorf
release US 10.Nov.06, UK 1.Dec.06
06/US Columbia 1h52

Through the looking glass: Gyllenhaal and Ferrell

gyllenhaal thompson hoffman

London Film Fest

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Stranger Than Fiction The pitch is simple: "The Truman Show meets Adaptation". And the result is exactly that, and quite a lot more--with a sharply clever script, witty direction and terrific performances across the board.

Tax auditor Harold Crick (Ferrell) goes about his life with obsessive precision. But when he hears a woman's voice narrating his every move, and dropping scary clues about his future, he starts believing he's merely a character in a novel. He consults a literature professor (Hoffman) for help, and as his routine crumbles, he begins to fall for an anarchist baker (Gyllenhaal) he's supposed to be auditing. Meanwhile, the reclusive author (Thomson) is suffering from writer's block, while her publisher sends someone (Latifah) to help her find a way to kill off her protagonist.

Forster keeps the tone playful and warmly engaging as he subtly layers in all kinds of visual and thematic elements. From on-screen graphics to ingenious literary references, the film is packed with snappy gags that aren't essential to the plot, but stimulate our imagination. There are even quietly pointed political jabs, as well as some astute comments on feel-good culture. But it's the central storyline that really grabs hold.

Ferrell gets Harold exactly right--a pathetic and lovable man-child, flawed but charmingly naive. He never overplays Harold's coming of age, and as a result we travel this astonishing journey right with him. And his scenes with Gyllenhaal spark with charm and real romantic tenderness. While Thompson and Hoffman seem to have wonderfully swapped characters--with Thompson in the rumpled and quirky role, struggling with her own emergence from a mythical existence, and Hoffman strikingly subdued as the comically quick-thinking expert.

Where the film finds its own voice is in the resonant themes of self-awareness and fatalism. As these characters struggle to gain control of their lives, the film becomes a remarkably powerful yet understated exploration of how important it is to seize the day. Eccentricities and inner desires are let loose as the script mischievously plays with the process of writing itself to blur the line between comedy and tragedy. Provocative, heart-breaking and heart-warming--all at the same time.

cert 12 themes, language 6.Sep.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Stranger Than Fiction Laurie T, Minneapolis: "I read the reviews and selected this movie because I we had not gone to a movie in a while and wanted to make sure we enjoyed it. All I can say is 'awesome!' It's a a good movie. Will Farrell is wonderful, and Emma Thompson as the secluded writer is perfect! Dustin Hoffman also adds to this wonderful show. We truly enjoyed this movie" (11.Nov.06)
2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall