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Stranger Than Fiction Review

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by Simon Crust Dec 29, 2008

    Stranger Than Fiction Review

    Welcome to the third Blu-ray double dip covered here on AVForums Movie reviews; a title perhaps not so well known as Casino Royale or I am Legend and therefore beggars the question even more than those titles, is it worth the upgrade? And as such I propose not to spend too much time on the this, the synopsis part of the review but rather give my own brief thoughts before moving on to try and answer that burning question.

    Stranger than Fiction is a strange whimsical story that combines love, life and hurtles towards loss in a bizarre love triangle, of sorts, in which our 'hero' begins to hear narration about his life and upon that realisation has to break out of his routine or face an impending doom. Part fairy tale, part love story, part space time convergence, part romance and part comedy the film pulls together many different strands in its attempt to be a very clever twist on an old fashioned idea.

    The actor chosen to play Harold Crick, our 'hero' needed to be of a special breed; able to elicit feelings of sympathy towards an Inland Revenue Serviceman and a person with near OCD when it comes to preparing for his everyday life, yet have a near childlike wonder when it comes to the opposite sex. The actor, Will Ferrell, may, at first view, be an odd choice; known primarily for 'comedy' roles he is one of a new breed of American comedians to make his move from the Saturday Night Live TV show. His recent work, I have to say, is not really to my taste; in fact the term Will Ferrell comedy puts my teeth on edge. However, a brief look through his résumé will yield a body of work that is not confined to the films that turn me off. In fact Elf (2003) is one of my favourite Christmas films. During a recent podcast we discussed the way comedians tend to do very well with tragedy and it seems Ferrell is no exception; even Elf, while a happy go lucky Christmas yarn has its foot well and truly entrenched in that camp and Stranger than Fiction comes from the same mould. In essence Ferrell is playing the same character as Buddy the elf, that same childlike wonder and set in his ways attitude to life. Very different in their outcomes though Harold needing to break out of his routine lest he be doomed. I'm glad to say that Ferrell excels as Crick, even before the strange things start to happen and before he goes on his journey there is that feeling of that whimsy. It is, perhaps, why his comedy has become so popular, there is a persona that is immediately identifiable and when played 'straight' is everyman. He carries the film without effort and when he brings flours we cannot help but melt.

    As his love interest we are introduced to Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ana Pascal, an actress that, it has to be said, is not your typical starlet. She does not scream that Hollywood glamour, in fact she's not even 'girl next door' looks, she's more 'girl across the road and round the corner from the girl next door' looks; even when she's poshed up to the nines in The Dark Knight! However for this part she is damn near perfect. When she regales Harold with her reasons for becoming a baker, how she intends to 'change the world' and was known through collage for her baking we find our hearts becoming as soft and sweet as the cookies she bakes. The gradual chemistry that grows between our two main characters is a joy and founded in so much reality that one cannot help but fall for their charm together. And thankfully so because it is on this relationship that the lynch pin of the script hold itself, for without it Harold's life means nothing.

    Our final character, the apex of the triangle is Emma Thompson as the author Karen Eiffel. Another comedian that works exceptionally well in the medium of tragedy and it is put to very good use here. Her character is a writer that is famed to killing off her main characters in often bizarre twists of fate and when her writing and Harold's life become inexorably intertwined their respective fates are changed forever. There is no reason given for this odd turn, nor is there one needed because the journey is all that matters.

    Director Marc Forster manages to juggle this odd little story in a way that keeps the pace moving forward. Yes it is leisurely at times, but never slow, background information is essential to giving these characters the reality they need to help sell the whimsical nature. But when we know the fate there is an air of inevitability that overweighs everything and much like Fincher's Seven (1995) we find ourselves cringing at the screen willing a change of direction. It is to Forster's credit that such emotion can be invoked from such a mad idea and even more to his credit that he holds that emotion right to the end and beyond. He also has a good eye for a scene, I particularly like the banter between Harold and Ana on the bendy bus, it's movements mirroring their speech, just when you think they are close a fork in the road pulls them apart.

    Stranger than Fiction does not sit happily in any genre and whilst that can, at times, damage a film (I'm thinking of Hancock (2008) for one) here it works very well; the chemistry between the leads, the way the story unfolds, the heart wrenching ride we are forced to endure and the rounding out of all the story threads set up so neatly in the beginning coming together to make something a little bit special. I, for one, am a fan.