Writer: Lim Chang Moh Writer Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"Monster''s Ball", "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" and "Finding Neverland"
Sometimes, when things go crazy, have you ever imagined that your life could be 'composed and written' by some author working on some sort of a tragicomedy? Or, if you are a novelist, have you ever imagined your character coming to life and having a mind of its own?
Well, this fantasy situation is explored by writer Zach Helm and director Marc Forster in "Stranger Than Fiction", a story about a lonely IRS (Internal Revenue Service) agent who starts hearing voices in his head dictating all his actions and thoughts. At first Harold Crick (Will Farrell) thinks that it is his toothbrush or tie that is talking to him. However, when the voices seem to predict his actions, he turns to literary professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) for help to trace the writer.
Meanwhile, the voices have a dramatic impact on Harold's life of routine and audit figures (he counts the steps he takes to his office, and even the strokes of his toothbrush) and he starts making changes. He befriends a young baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ana Pascal) whose taxes he is sent to audit, and what starts off as a stormy relationship turns into a beautiful friendship of 'milk and cookies' and 'music and romance'.
Meanwhile, novelist Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is having problems finishing her latest novel, 'Death And Taxes' - specifically, thinking of a dramatic way to kill off her protagonist. Her publisher has even sent her an assistant in the form of Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to help with her research. Soon, Harold tracks down his 'life narrator' - and even discovers that the book she is writing is a tragedy. Can he do anything to stop this metaphysical control on his destiny?
I am not bowled over by this idea of 'narrative control' of a person's life. Plot holes are apparent upon close scrutiny. Nevertheless, the movie is thought-provoking, especially in its subplot about a dull, sedentary life 'ruled' by figures and a wristwatch which decides to 'rebel' one day.
Still, the best part of "Stranger Than Fiction" lies in the performances of its almost perfect cast. Farrell, who has generally been seen as an over-the-top comedian, proves that he can handle a straight role and even gives it a compelling emotional edge. He gets our sympathy throughout the movie and when he is on-screen with Gyllenhaal, the chemistry sizzles. Gyllenhaal (last seen in "World Trade Center") is no Hollywood heart-throb (like Meg Ryan was) but she bubbles with sex appeal here as a baker who is 'won over' by a set of gift flours!
Hoffman and Thompson flesh out their roles with the quirky, funny eccentricities expected of them and they shine every time they appear. Watch what Hoffman does to his coffee, and what Thompson does to her chain-smoked cigarettes, and you would appreciate the detailed portrayals that director Forster goes for. Forster, who gave us Oscar-nominated efforts like "Monster's Ball" and "Finding Neverland", also provides his own quirky touch to the movie - by adding on cute graphics to show the figures in Harold's mind as he goes about his daily routine.
"Stranger Than Fiction" is an intelligent film about life, art and romance which may somehow force you to examine your own life too. Like, is your life being ruled by your watch, waking up, going to work and getting to bed when it tells you to? And, aren't you going to rebel - just to prove that you are in control of your own life and destiny? Cinema Online, 23 September 2008