Movie Review: Stranger Than Fiction

Brother Moloch arrived Sunday afternoon. All is well. He observed more than fifty baptisms and three exorcisms in Tanzania.

I had two calls from prospective renters over the weekend. One left his work number on my machine, then never returned my messages. The second left me a number that doesn’t work.

However: A young man came to see the room this evening. He is alleged to be a handyman. Might be good.

Once Moloch was gone on Sunday, I found myself at loose ends and remembered I’d been wanting to see “Stranger Than Fiction.” So I did that. Short review—I have lots of quibbles, but it was the most enjoyable film I’ve seen in some time. I do enjoy these existential fantasy movies, like “Groundhog Day,” “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind,” and “Bruce Almighty.”

Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, an IRS agent who is obsessed with numbers. He counts the strokes as he brushes his teeth, and can multiply large figures in his head. His life is barren emotionally. He lives in an apartment that looks like a motel suite, except that the suite would be homier.

One morning as he’s counting out his brushing, he begins to hear the voice of author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) narrating what he’s doing. The narration isn’t constant, but he finds it distracting when it’s there. He sees a couple counselors who tell him he’s going schizophrenic, but he rejects that explanation. Finally, on the theory that he’s involved in somebody’s story, he goes to see a literature professor, played by Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman sets about analyzing what kind of story Harold is part of, and has him journaling his experiences to see if it’s a comedy or a tragedy.

Meanwhile Harold is auditing a charming baker, Anna Pascal, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I was ambivalent about her character. First of all, she’s a tax protestor who refuses to pay the portion of her taxes earmarked for National Defense. Secondly she’s fairly heavily tattooed, which just creeps me out. On the other hand she has a very sweet smile, which was enough to get me over the rough spots.

As you’d expect, Anna starts out hating Harold, but gradually warms to him, and they end up sharing a bed.

Harold’s story is intercut with scenes where we see author Eiffel, who is fascinating (but then all authors are, aren’t they?). She thinks like me and walks around half-dazed, drinking and smoking like… well, like somebody I knew well at one time. When Hoffman’s character (sorry, I’ve forgotten his name) finally figures out that Harold is in a Kay Eiffel novel (she always writes tragedies), Harold sets about finding her to beg for his life.

I can quibble with the movie all night. Are we supposed to believe that Kay Eiffel created Harold Crick, or did she just somehow commandeer his life narrative? Various authorial comments suggest that Harold’s watch has something to do with his ability to hear Kay’s voice, but how that might work isn’t explained (or else I missed it).

And why must it be taken for granted that people immediately go to bed with each other the moment they fall in love? I know lots of people do, especially nowadays, but there must be a few exceptions. And why does Harold have to approach her with the words, “I want you,” instead of “I love you”? Is that supposed to make him authentic?

But for all that, it was a very good movie. I thought its portrayal of writer’s block was pretty authentic (how many of us have been stopped in our tracks by a reluctance to hurt a character we liked?). And there’s a theme of selflessness and laying one’s life down that did my heart good.

There’s some bad language and a little nudity (though it’ll only be prurient if old guys in a health club shower room get your motor running), but it’s fairly unobjectionable by contemporary Hollywood standards.

I recommend “Stranger Than Fiction” highly, for smart grownups. Especially ones who like books.

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: Stranger Than Fiction”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.