I have love affairs with films that, like most affairs, are intense but brief. I see a fantastic movie, fall desperately in love with it, analyze it to death, buy the DVD, and then watch it collect dust. The other day I was looking through my DVD collection and realized that many of my DVDs were still in the shrink wrap! To this I challenged myself to crack open such DVDs, pop them in my PS3, and relive the magic that originally captivated me. So this past Saturday I re-watched the movie Stanger than Fiction. Rather than give you a review of the film I’m going to tell you why I love it in hopes you will add it to your Netflix queue.
Let me start off by saying that if you like traditional Will Ferrell movies this is NOT the flick for you. Granted I occasionally indulge in such films as Talladega Nights and Anchorman but for the most part I steer clear of the likes of Old School and Semi-Pro. However, Stranger than Fiction, although technically a comedy, is a far cry from the Will Ferrell movie empire. The same thing goes for Ferrell’s co-star in thie movie Queen Latifah– if you liked The Beauty Shop you will not enjoy this film.
But even without Ferrell’s SNL jokes about cowbells, Stranger than Fiction is a comedy. The humor is razor sharp and often ironic. Helm’s writing is fantastic but it’s the actors’ particular delivery of the script that makes the film truly remarkable. Each character is totally over the top but remains so subdued that it’s not hard to suspend disbelief and think that they are real people. However to full grasp the writing and the characters I recommend you take (and pass) at least one classic literature class.
Which brings me to my next favorite thing about the film- it intermingles classic and modern works of literary fiction with a remarkable screenplay, captivating mise-en-scene and fabulous acting. I particularly like the scene where Professor Jules Hilbert (played by Dustin Hoffman) is interviewing Harold (played by Ferrell) to see if he is a character in a novel that has already been written and published. Towards the scene’s conclusion Hilbert says, “Odd as it may seem, I’ve just ruled out half of Greek literature, seven fairy tales, ten Chinese fables, and determined conclusively that you are not King Hamlet, Scout Finch, Miss Marple, Frankenstein’s Monster, or a golem. Aren’t you relieved to know you’re not a golem?” to which Crick says with an impeccable deadpan, “Yes. I am relieved to know that I am not a golem. “. Genius.
Besides the veiled remarks about English literature and the comedy is elegantly narrated by Karen Eiffel (played by Emma Thompson) a modern Sylvia Plath who writes tragedies in which the beloved main character(s) meet an untimely and gruesome death at the end of the story. Ironic? I think that’s what they were going for.
Besides the literary “inside jokes” and indulgent narration there is a heartwarming love story at the center of the film. Although a seemingly misfit pair on and off the screen, Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhall) and Harold Crick have fantastic chemistry. As their story unfolds, impossible and improbable as it may seem, you can’t help but feel the only satisfying resolution for the film is one where they end up together.
Ultimately, Foster does an excellent job of taking the fantasy of the world in which Harold Crick and the gang live and making it into a reality- as if the truth is, and always will be, stranger than fiction.