Stranger Than Fiction, 113 minutes, rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity.
Have you ever felt that you might be living someone else’s life or that maybe the life you are living is an illusion? Stranger Than Fiction, now available on DVD, looks at that question from a unique, whimsical, romantic, and endearing eye.
Meet Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), mild-mannered and utterly bored and boring agent for the IRS. Harold wakes up at the same time each morning, catches the same bus, eats the same lunch and dinner, and basically sleepwalks through his life until, one day, he hears a woman’s voice speaking about, of all things, Harold himself. At first, he thinks he’s imagining the voice, particularly after confirming with those around him that no one else other than Harold hears the voice. A psychologist even tells him that he may be schizophrenic but he knows that he is hearing a woman who is unnervingly and actually narrating Harold’s life as he lives it.
As Harold desperately tries to unravel the mystery in his head, the film also follows the challenges facing author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) as she decides how to construct the demise of the main character in her new novel. A character named Harold Crick.
Convinced that the voice is indeed a narration of his own life, Harold also is faced with falling in love with an irreverent young baker (Maggie Gyllenhall) whom he is auditing for the IRS. Ultimately, Harold finds an English professor (Dustin Hoffman) who helps Harold discover the truth of what is happening to him. When Harold actually recognizes that the voice he is hearing actually belongs to the author who is trying to finish her book, he becomes aware that he is indeed a character in her book and that he is about to face his own demise. Is his whole life merely an illusion created by the author of a novel? Even if it is, he has met the woman of his dreams and he’s not ready to perish simply to provide the best possible ending to someone else’s story. Beyond desperate, Harold seeks out and finds Eiffel, who is as shocked to see him as he is to meet the author of his life. Completely perplexed, she gives him the book to read, including the details of his own imminent demise. Now what does he do?
Even if it were just for it’s pure and audacious originality (in a business that seems to have lost all courage or understanding to make such films), Stranger Than Fiction would be worth seeing. Happily, the film is also a complete delight to experience from start to "finish" and is one of the most underrated Spiritual Cinema films in many years.
The film is a simply amazing metaphor for the life that we live every day. Are we the author of that life or do we give that power away to others? Are we spiritual beings living a human existence so that we can play out the karma of our soul’s journey in this illusion we call life? What happens when we impact another’s life in such a powerful way that the course of life itself is changed? Can love indeed change everything, including our own destiny?
All those questions and many, many more are explored in the film while, at the same time, we are utterly enchanted by Harold and the adventure that he pursues. Much of the credit for that goes to Will Ferrell, who is absolutely brilliant, and utterly charming and understated in his portrayal of a character who has to question the reality of his own existence. Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhall and Dustin Hoffman are always wonderful and they shine here as well. But if you’ve only seen Ferrell as a broad comedian, he will be the true revelation to you in this film.
It is so sad and shocking to see the steady parade of unremitting and dark films that has been emanating from Hollywood the last several years. Therefore, when a film as charming and life affirming as Stranger Than Fiction comes along, it often gets lost in the shuffle, so to speak, and that was exactly the fate that befell the film when it opened theatrically in 2006. Now, however, the film can be treasured on DVD and I heartily recommend it as a sensational holiday film to be enjoyed by the whole family.