I wanted very much to like Stranger Than Fiction. I heard it was a clever script; I like Will Ferrell; I like Maggie Gyllenhall. But Stranger Than Fiction feels like a reject from Charlie Kaufman’s waste bin. The premise is interesting — man of routine discovers his life is being narrated and the narrator says he will die. But the execution of the premise leaves much to be desired.
Unfortunately, the specifics of when, exactly, Will Ferrell’s IRS agent Harold Crick can hear the voice in his head and when he can’t are never defined. Thus he hears it whenever it is convenient for plot or joke. Is his life determined when the novelist Karen Eiffel (Ema Thompson) types her book, or when she writes it on a legal pad? Or is she allowed to make corrections? She’s been writing the book for ten years, but he just now started hearing the voices? The movie, unable to lock down the rules of its world, is thus handcuffed, incapably of fully exploring the premise.
Zak Penn Zach Helm, is fairly paint-by-numbers. Harold Crick is given a dream of wanting to be a guitar player for no better reason than because screenwriting manuals say every character needs a dream. Maggie Gyllenhall’s baker is a granola girl because Helm is probably a fan of Dharma & Greg. When Ferrell and Ema Thompson have their big confrontation near the end of the film, Helm doesn’t seem to know what to do other than put the two characters in a room together. The scene is brief and disappointing. The whole climax suffers from Studio 60 disease: having built up the writing as ‘brilliant’, when we actually see what is written in action we can only be disappointed.
The most laughs come in the scenes with Dustin Hoffman, playing
an existential detective a literature professor. It was not a very polite thing to ask him to reprise his role from I ? Huckabees, but he does the most he can with it.
The direction, by Marc Forrester, is fine, if a lot over-directed in places. He seems to have spent more of his time working out the visual logic of Harold’s mind than the emotional logic.
While a passable amusement, Stranger Than Fiction seems to add up to, on the balance sheet, a disappointing waste of both acting talent and a promising post-modern premise.