My hubby and I subscribe to Netflix, which has worked out very nicely for us. Sitting on our coffee table for about a week was the latest Will Ferrell movie Stranger Than Fiction. So we decided to pop it into the DVD player Sunday night after watching The Amazing Race. I love Will Farrell. I love Dustin Hoffman. I also love Emma Thompson. Now, after watching the movie, I love Maggie Gyllenhaal. What a performance each gives! What’s interesting about this movie is that everyone gives a wonderful performance yet they all seem lost in their own, separate little worlds. Even when they meet up under the strangest circumstances, they still seem as if they are living their own lives and just happen to bump up against each other over and over, randomly, yet with purpose. Maybe this is intentional on Zach Helm’s part, but the effect is not a bad movie by any means, but a series of excellent performances that seem to gel nicely into coherence by the end of the film.
At first, it’s a bit disconcerting seeing Will Ferrell in a serious role. It’s kind of like seeing Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the first time. It takes some getting used to. But once you do, and once you suspend your disbelief to buy into the premise that the character in a novel and the novel writer can co-exist in the same universe, you end up with an enjoyable film. While the story is not as deep and convoluted as Eternal Sunshine, it still offers some tantalizing bits to contemplate; about literary theory, the “story” of our lives and how we play that out, and the premise offered us by Shakespeare, that all the world’s a stage and the men and women merely players. You get determinism and free will rolled up with social politics and the IRS. Interesting…
My favorite part of this movie is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sweet, revolutionary, baker character. She’s a Harvard Law school dropout turned bakery store owner who is audited by the government after refusing to pay a portion of her taxes. She becomes the catalyst that brings Ferrell’s character, Harold Crick, a tax auditor for the IRS, into the real world of emotions and a fully lived life. Before he meets Ana Pascal, the lovely baker, Ferrell is kind of wooden, rote, routine, and humdrum who actually begins hearing his author’s narration in his head one morning while brushing his teeth exactly 72 times. In fact, watching the film, you aren’t quite sure if Ferrell is deliberately understating his role because he’s calming his inner comedian or whether he’s playing it straight to make a particular point. Either way, it’s disarming and intriguing all at the same time. But, Gyllenhaal slowly brings him out of his shell. Hoffman plays a literary professor, Jules Hilbert, who tries to determine what story Crick is living out (comedy or tragedy) after Crick fails to get a psychiatrist interested in his plight. Emma Thompson plays Karen Eiffel, the on-the-edge, chain smoking author of Crick’s life who experiences writer’s block and can’t figure out how to end her story.
This movie, I’m sure, is flying under the radar because it’s not “socially relevant” or because it isn’t a bloodbath. This movie is not a tear-jerker or even strictly a romantic comedy. It doesn’t contain deep, philosophical truths (although as a literary major I could have some fun with the last names of most of the characters: Eiffel, Pascal, Crick: Pascal = wager and Crick = determinism, DNA, etc.). But, I won’t go into that. Sometimes theory destroys all the fun of a novel/film and as Freud might have said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” Or was that Data on Star Trek?) Anyway, I digress. The film is enjoyable and it doesn’t seem like a waste of time when you’re done watching it. It won’t generate mass discussion at the water cooler the next day at work, but it’s entertaining and the actors are fun to watch. That’s all anyone can reasonably ask in the world of film nowadays. I would recommend it.