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"Stranger Than Fiction"

Directed by Marc Forster.
Written by Zach Helm.
Starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  10/25/06

I was on the fence with this one--was it really good or really great?

Ultimately, I couldn't think of anything that I didn't like in the new comedy "Stranger Than Fiction", which was surprising to me given that I thought I had seen everything worthwhile in the trailer.  Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, damn near the most boring guy on the face of the planet--a tax man for the IRS, Harold is precise right down to the number of times he brushstrokes his ivories every morning.  A lifelong bachelor, Harold works hard, makes dinner for himself each night, goes to bed at exactly 11:13 every night, and does it all again...until one day, he notices that an Englishwoman seems to be narrating every single thing he does.  Thinking that everyone can hear this voice, only to realize that it is just him, he sets about trying to track down just who the hell seems to be writing a book about his life with Harold as the book's main character.  Little does he know--at least, initially--that the Englishwoman is none other than renowned author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who has a nasty habit of writing great books about ordinary heroes only to kill them off in the last sequence of each of her previous eight novels.  Kay has finished about 90% of her latest novel, Death & Taxes, but can't seem to come up with a way to kill off her lead character...Harold Crick.  The publisher sends in an "assistant" (Queen Latifah) to help Kay finish her book; meanwhile, Harold seeks help from a lit studies professor (Dustin Hoffman) to interpret the text he is hearing from the author each day to see if they can track down the real author.

The script by Zach Helm is fantastic; it is a great mix of fantasy and comedy, with a slight touch of dramatic elements as Harold comes to grips with his situation, and a dash of romance courtesy of a relationship between Harold and one of his "auditees", baker Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  Thanks to a toned-down performance by Ferrell, everyone else is playing the slightly hyped character for a change, and it works...Thompson looks absolutely insane as her blocked writer persona, Hoffman is amusing as the lit prof and Gyllenhaal is lively as the woman that initially hates the tax man for coming down on her for not paying her taxes.  The laughs range from subtle to uproarious; the idea behind all of our action is a good one but surprisingly, the narration by Thompson's character never really gets old, thanks to conveniently forgetting to do it sometimes but also mixing up the reactions that Harold has each time he hears a loud voice up in the sky describing his every action.  I also loved that Helm doesn't offer us a script that actually attempts to explain how a character in a book could ever come to life, or how a living person's actions could suddenly be taken over by a pulp writer, or whatever.  Hey, just accept that this idea is crazy, and roll with makes for a great film.

I am very satisfied with "Stranger Than Fiction"; good stuff all around.  I'm excited to see what Helm is going to do next...

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09