Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

Sometimes I wonder if while I’m writing these reviews, there isn’t some screenwriter, director or actor feeling a hot burning sensation in their crotch as I deliver some much needed scathing criticism.

Sadly, I doubt it as no legal action or boxing challenges have been asked of me (Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you Uwe Boll!).

Cinematically, writer Zach Helm and director Marc Forster have brought that kind of tale to screen, attempting to blur the line between fiction and reality, in “Stranger Than Fiction”.

In the film, Emma Thompson plays an author whose latest book involves a seemingly nothing of a man, an IRS agent played by Will Ferrell, “lord of the cowbell”.

As the tale unfolds, Queen Latifah is sent to help Thompson with writer’s block and Ferrell begins to develop an actual life with the help of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tony Hale and Dustin Hoffman, who all fulfill a certain psychological component of Ferrell’s life.

If you wanted to think deeply about the film, you can draw a lot of parallels to psychology. In a nutshell, the film is about an author (God) trying to develop a character (man) whose life is devoid of interactivity until he finds love (Gyllenhaal), friendship (Hale) and a mentor figure (Hoffman).

Or you can sit back and enjoy the interplay between everyone since at its core, “Stranger Than Fiction” is a heartwarming and often humorous film.

Ferrell is getting good reviews for his performance and justifiably so. I don’t think he will reach the dramatic quality that a fellow comedian, Jim Carrey, has been able to reach but it could have been far worse.

Working in his favor is that the film is about a repressed number cruncher coming out of his shell. That plays to Ferrell’s wonderful ability to be awkward while still being touching and funny.

If the character had been written without such an offbeat sense, then Ferrell might have fallen on his face.

The other actors in the film are all pretty good. I was especially happy that Hoffman and Latifah didn’t chew up the scenery like a couple of hungry mountain goats.

Most of the other elements in the film are done well and as the story unfolds, I found myself more and more engrossed into the strange reality / dreamworld-esque creation that Forster and Helm delivered to the screen.

I compared Ferrell to Carrey earlier and I think if “The Truman Show” had a baby out of wedlock, the result would be “Stranger Than Fiction”.

There are numerous points of comparison and I don’t mean it as complete disrespect or that I think the film is a total rip-off. Both serve their own purposes and are highly entertaining.

Still, if there was one thing I felt a little disappointed about, it was that I felt like I had seen this movie before. The details were changed but the underlying message wasn’t far removed.

By no means though am I saying you shouldn’t see this film. It may just yet factor into my top ten of the year.

I’m giving “Stranger Than Fiction” a 4 out of 5. Emotionally, this strikes a wonderful chord and there was enough balance between comedy and tragedy to make it really work.

Now all you have to wonder is if you’re seeing the film because you want to or if it’s because I told you to.

If it’s the latter, please send one million dollars to my numbered Swiss bank account by the end of the month. I’ve got some stuff I want to buy.


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