Stranger Than Fiction (Forster, 2006)

Sitting there watching Marc Forster’s wondrous Stranger Than Fiction, I turned to the stunning beauty next to me and I saw a smile, a genuine face of delight at the seamless mixture of comedy, intelligence, and joy she was seeing. How often can we say a movie makes us glad we’re alive, realizing the subtle nuances of our own existence as crucial to personal happiness. I’d venture to say not that often. The glory of Stanger Than Fiction stems from our challenging the notion that only modern day violence, death, and destruction exemplify good cinematic art. I looked at all the films I’ve liked this year and more often than not they deal with extreme instances of death and destruction. I saw the sadness in this fact, and it made Stranger Than Fiction, a film of extreme warmth, that much more important to me. The story of IRS Agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) whose simple and dull life gets uprooted by a voice he begins to hear, one that narrates his every move succinctly and “with a better vocabulary” than himself, as if he was a character in a piece of fiction. The voice belongs to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a famous novelist who has been stuck on trying to kill her main character…Harold Crick, for a long time. So Harold knows he’s going to die, and Karen, unknowing her main character is real, thinks mighty hard how to kill him off within the context of her story. Dustin Hoffman plays an English professor who helps Harold attempt to find out more about his situation. Quite a setup indeed, and Forster and screenwriter Zach Helm enable the characters to briskly maneuver the poetic but realistic terrain of the cityscape, often cloudy, rainy, and gloomy, but never ominous. Harold’s journey takes poignant turns, the best involving a baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal in her best role) who he is auditing. Above all, Stranger Than Fiction removes the the need to “destroy” within the narrative, replacing this device with a unique riff on healing, the joys one can obtain from helping others, and the complicated moments of human development modern films often solve with violence. We need more films like Stranger Than Fiction, because much like Forster’s earlier masterpiece Finding Neverland, his latest effort dares the viewer to be emotionally connected with his characters, not out of spite, or hatred, or jealousy, but through kindness and empathy.

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