Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

This blog always welcomes creative efforts that stand far apart from most of the same-old, same-old Hollywood produces.

Special effects. Explosions. Gross-out jokes. Sequels. Remakes. Blah. Blah. Blah. Yawn.

As good as Stranger Than Fiction is, it's too bad this 2006 effort from director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) and screenwriter Zach Helm (Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium) settles for an ending that just doesn't feel right.

IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) starts to hear a woman's voice narrating his life. How often he brushes his teeth, the route he takes to work and more day-to-day detail about him in the Windy City is described in real time.

When said mystery voice suggests Crick will soon croak, he gets worried fast.

His humdrum life is just starting to look promising. Crick has fallen for bakery owner Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). His interest in her extends beyond her financial documents he is supposed to be auditing.

Sensing he's a character in someone's book, Crick seeks out English professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). Hilbert lends a hand, even coming up with a series of 20-plus questions to determine what kind of work Crick finds himself in. Has he ever won a whistling contest? Do you have a dream?

The author in question is noted writer Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Writer's block has kept her from releasing a new work for a decade. Her publisher sends along personal assistant Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to ensure Eiffel's book finally gets done. Crick has his help. Eiffel has hers.

Can Eiffel, known for killing her protagonists, be convinced to change her book so Crick lives in real life? What personal price must be made for great art to be born?

Stranger Than Fiction reminds this moviegoer of other films, such as The Truman Show and Delirious, that explore a character who's trapped in another story. It's a great concept for the movies, just like time travel (see the original Back to the Future).

The cast is solid, with some super cameo appearances by Tom Hulce (Amadeus) and Linda Hunt (The Year of Living Dangerously).

Low-brow comedian Adam Sandler showed he could act in Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish. Stranger Than Fiction is a definite creative step up for Ferrell from the comedies he usually makes.

Check out an extended scene on the DVD release that features a full interview between Eiffel and Darlene Sunshine (Kristen Chenoweth). This five-minute segment featuring the clueless television host ("I like to end each interview with a question.") offers plenty of laughs. Watch it.

As for the ending, let me know what you think. Did it work for you or was it a sad effort to put a happy face on what should have been a downer finale?

RATING: 8/10

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