The best movies are the ones that do not fit in to any particular genre. “Stranger Than Fiction” is being advertised as a comedy, and it is very funny, but it is also a romance, a drama, a morale tale as well as a fantasy. Also Will Ferrell turns in his best performance as a man who can hear his own life’s narration in his head. Here he dials down his usual shtick, for a very quite, reserved performance that is funny as well as touching.
Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS auditor who generally lives a bland and mundane existence. One day he begins to hear the narration of his own life in his head. At first he thinks he is losing it, but eventually he begins to realize that he is a character in a story. He comes to this conclusion with the help of a literary professor played by Dustin Hoffman. The voice that he is hearing is of Emma Thompson, who plays Karen Eiffell, a writer who presently has writers block.
As Harold chugs along, he begins to take a different direction in life due to some of the comments his narrator is making. When he is sent to audit Ana, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, he feels attracted to her, and decides to do something about it. Soon he is playing the guitar, taking time off of work, and thinking about other things besides numbers. To Harold’s surprise, Ana is attracted to him as well, besides the fact that he is auditing her tax returns. Together they form a sweet and touching relationship.
But eventually Harold realizes that the narrator is going to kill him off soon. When he finds out that the narrator is a living author he pays her a visit. This is where things come down to a choice between making a beautiful piece of literature, and sparing a person’s life.
Some people are going to be surprised to see Will Ferrell in a rather dramatic role. He has his moments of inspired comedy, but basically he dials it down and portrays a man who is stuck in life. Anybody who saw “Winter Passing” about six months ago won’t be knocked over, as they already know that Ferrell is more than just a comedian. But here, dare I say, he could be Oscar worthy.
But what is a leading performance without a supporting cast. All around, everybody here is terrific. Thompson is perfect as a death obsessed writer who can’t seem to get inspired enough to kill again. Hoffman just chews up the scenery as he tries to figure out if Harold is in a comedy or a tragedy. But Maggie Gyllenhaal steals the show as Ana. She portrays a hard front but is really sweet and loving. There is a beautiful scene where Ferrell plays the guitar for her after they realize that they like each other.
In a way this movie reminds me of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Adaptation” in the way that fantasy is woven in to drama and comedy, giving us a one of a kind experience. This is one of the best movies of the year.