DVD Release Date:  February 27, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  November 10, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity)
Genre:  Drama/Black comedy
Run Time:  113 min.
Director:  Marc Forster
Actors:  Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah, Linda Hunt, Kristin Chenoweth, Tony Hale

Like Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show” and Adam Sandler in “Punch-Drunk Love,” funnyman Will Ferrell sets out to prove that he can be serious if the script calls for it, too, (take that Ron Burgundy!) in the whimsical tale “Stranger Than Fiction.”

And it’s a challenge that Ferrell pulls off with aplomb as Harold Crick, a lonely IRS agent whose life revolves around numbers – the number of strokes he uses while brushing his teeth, the number of steps to the bus stop, not to mention the tax figures he deals with on a daily basis.

But one morning Crick’s comfortably regimented life goes dramatically off course when he hears a mysterious female voice (with a highbrow English accent, no less) giving a play-by-play of his actions – even the most mundane ones. Needless to say, it starts to creep him out after a while, especially when the voice mentions his impending death.

Scared that “the voice” just might be telling the truth, Crick starts searching for answers. After telling a shrink (Linda Hunt) that he feels like “a character in my own life,” she dismisses him as a schizo. Then, on the off-chance he’s telling the truth, she eventually recommends that he visit literature professor Jules Hilbert (a very funny Dustin Hoffman).

After a few hilariously played-out sessions where they try to determine whether Crick’s story is a comedy or a tragedy, Hilbert recommends that Crick should live the life he’s always wanted to, a pertinent lesson considering his days could be numbered.

Heeding Hilbert’s advice, Crick’s life slowly begins to change for the better. He learns to play the guitar (a life-long dream). He pursues the rebellious-but-pretty bakery owner (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who blew him off when he was forced to audit her. He quits counting and starts making his life count instead.

While such a moral could be cheesy if not properly executed, both the writer and the actors manage to avoid the familiar movie clichés (i.e. no sappy soundtrack or instantaneous shifts in character that aren’t believable), which makes the moments touching rather than cringe-worthy.

Of course, the audience is more “in the know” than Crick is because we’ve already been informed from countless movie trailers that the “voice” is Emma Thompson, who shines as Kay Eiffel, a twitchy, reclusive author known for killing off her characters by book’s end. Struck with a case of writer’s block that’s gone on for a decade, Eiffel still can’t figure out how to end Crick’s life, much to her (and her publisher’s) chagrin.

So here’s what you’re probably wondering: Will Crick be able to stop Eiffel before she figures it out? Well, I’ll never tell. But I will say this, “Stranger Than Fiction” is an unconventional but well-crafted fable that will keep you intrigued (and in suspense) until the very end. Which might be the strangest thing of all, considering its lead actor.
      
AUDIENCE:  12 and up (although the younger crowd might find it a little too slow as it’s definitely not Will Ferrell’s typical slapstick humor)

CAUTIONS: 

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Kay is typically shown smoking cigarettes, something her assistant Penny is trying to get her to stop. Harold is encouraged to “medicate” in order to help his “condition.”
  • Language/Profanity:  A couple of religious profanities, plus one “f” word used for comedic effect.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Harold and Ana are shown in bed in a couple of different scenes, but nothing explicit is shown, aside from passionate kissing and cuddling. In an early scene, female anatomy is mentioned in a crass way. While Harold and Professor Hilbert walk to the pool, they pass through the showers where several older men’s bare backsides are shown.
  • Violence:  A woman contemplates jumping from a tall building, and what would happen if she did is shown in another scene. A man jumps in front of a bus in order to save a young boy from getting hit while riding his bike. A graphic car accident is shown.