Film Review ***: Death Imitates Art in ...Stranger than Fiction...
Will Farrell More Restrained in New Comedy
By Alice Macdonald
Stranger than Fiction
Directed by Marc Forster
Written By Zach Helm
Starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Tony Hale
Opens Nov. 10
Hey, do you want to go see that new movie with Will Ferrell? Well, everybody probably does, so what I write really isn’t that important. Now that I’ve started, though, I might as well tell you that “Stranger than Fiction” is pretty funny — you should go see it. If you are anticipating another no-thought necessary slapstick movie from Ferrell, you will be disappointed, as this film is fairly intelligent — but still funny. The best part of the film is not our friend Will Ferrell, but the luminous supporting work by Dustin Hoffman, Tony Hale (Buster from “Arrested Development”!), and several others.
Despite what I had garnered from trailers for Stranger than Fiction, the film is actually a love story: it explores an unlikely connection between an anarchist baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the protagonist, Harold Crick (played by Ferrell, of course). The film is chock full of realistic elements and details, but the plot is just so implausible. This film is a witty juxtaposition of reality and the absurd, a fairy tale with fantastical elements and a serious twist. The human condition is a central theme in the movie, and there is an emphasis on the principle that the only sure thing in life is death. The following questions remain, however: when will you die? How will you die? Who has the power to decide? The story contrasts the impossible (Crick hears a voice narrating his every move) with the inevitable — death.
All the realism results from the attention to detail. Each costume and set was well thought out. The vests and necklaces worn by Dustin Hoffman match his character completely. Crick resides in what appears to be the most boring beige apartment, where everything appears to be carefully selected, down to the type of phone he has to his television set to his lighting fixtures. Crick’s friend Dave (Tony Hale) has a strikingly different d cor, including beautiful sconces and hand made dinnerware all in the midst of a futuristic apartment. The use of food was also well done and crucial to the realism. The baked goods in Gyllenhaal’s bakery teeter on pornographic, while Hoffman’s character does a dance with cups of coffee throughout the movie. These details emphasize the realities of life — one has to eat, sleep, and die.
The crux of the plot is that Emma Thompson’s character, Karen Eiffel, is writing a book, but the main character in the book actually exists, and is none other than the above mentioned Crick. Furthermore, Eiffel is not doing so well. She is having a bit of a crisis, so she wears the same outfit every day, and she teeters around in an only semi-sane manner while smoking like a chimney. I found this portrayal of nicotine refreshing, as I think political correctness and health concerns have drained Hollywood of its smoke-filled glory. Ms. Eiffel also serves as a stand-in for God, controlling Harold’s life from her white-walled office in a mystery location high above him.
There is a lot more to say about this movie, but rather than regurgitating the plot, I’ll just say that you should just go out and see it yourself. After all, you could die tomorrow.