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Overall Rating

Worth A Look28.4%
Average: 14.81%
Pretty Bad: 24.69%
Total Crap: 3.7%

7 reviews, 39 user ratings

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Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
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by brianorndorf

"Quirk doesn't equal quality"
2 stars

“Stranger than Fiction” has the design to embrace audience-friendly quirk on a grand scale. Mostly though, the film is a bore, lamely going through the Kaufmanesque movements while Will Ferrell sits idly by, watching as the picture dies all around him.

Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is a best-selling author battling a debilitating case of writer’s block. Stuck trying to complete her latest novel, she’s lost her sanity searching for a way to kill her lead character, Harold Crick. The real Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a meek IRS clerk situated in a perfectly timed life with no sense of adventure. When he starts to hear Eiffel’s voice narrating his daily rituals, Crick fears insanity, and panics when that narration turns into a grand design for his murder. Desperate for help from doctors (Dustin Hoffman) and romantic interests (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Crick searches for Eiffel, hoping to prevent his literary fate from happening for real.

There’s a paper thin line between clever and cute, and “Stranger than Fiction” doesn’t know what side to stand on. It’s a jovial enough journey into the mind of the homogeneous man, freckled with the type of turtleneck wit that makes the average moviegoer feel intelligent and the intelligent moviegoer feel not so guilty they’ve decided to enter a multiplex for their weekend dose of cinema nutrition. Mostly though, “Fiction” is one large false start, unable to claw out of the pit of its own toxic self-awareness.

Zach Helm’s screenplay has flagrant Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation”) overtones rocketing out of it that are impossible to ignore. It’s cleverness for cleverness sake, and it needs a filmmaker who can transcend that level of Starbucks-fueled invention; however, director Marc Forster is not it.

Forster is a technically inclined filmmaker, which comes in handy when trying to isolate Crick’s mathematical mind in the equations that visually construct on screen whenever his brain starts to whir. The early scenes assembling Crick’s straight-arrow life are given the right twist of nippy emptiness, and suggest that Forster has a firm grip on the whole enterprise.

Trouble is, Forster is not a funny director, and “Fiction” has aspirations, as faint as they may be, of becoming a life-affirming romantic comedy. Very little in the film, outside of Gyllenhaal’s wibberly-wobbly performance as a small time anarchist baker, smacks of the lunacy that seems intended in Helm’s script. Forster doesn’t have much of a history for lighthearted cinema (“Monster’s Ball, “Stay,” “Finding Neverland”), and “Fiction” proposes that perhaps there’s not much of future either.

Watching Will Ferrell try a dramatic role is like being on the world’s most dangerous roller coaster when it breaks down inches from the big drop. I can see what Ferrell is looking to accomplish in “Fiction” and I value his effort to stretch his acting muscles, but watching him try to inhabit the body of a docile soul doesn’t work for the actor or the film. Ferrell mopes around “Fiction” looking like he wants to burst, but the screenplay pins him down like an abusive older brother.

Ferrell is a marvelous talent, but he’s no Jack Lemmon, and has difficulty pulling off the twitchy straight man role without shutting down like a robot fresh out of batteries. He needs the right scripted spirit to help him muzzle his inner goofball desires. All “Fiction” asks him to do is sleepwalk around the movie while the quirks do the work for him.

The last act of “Fiction” bites off far more than it can chew, not only in trying to find a proper resolution for the complicated tale, but using that resolution to comment on the nature of pleasing distinguished artistic impulses vs. giving the unwashed masses what they want.

Under Forster’s watch, this is simply too much eccentricity for “Fiction” to bear, and the whole “life rocks!” resolution of the film is buried alive under an anemic, self-conscious Kaufmanesque weight that is intolerable. If there was ever a film that tried way too hard to seem important with too little effort to show for their troubles, “Stranger than Fiction” would be it.

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originally posted: 11/10/06 17:53:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2006 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/17/09 Aesop Every member of the cast was fantastic, and this movie rocked. 5 stars
1/10/09 Anonymous. will ferrell's best film! :] 4 stars
9/13/08 David 5 stars for this movie! 5 stars
8/24/08 AnnieG Less original than I'd been led to believe, but still enjoyable to watch. 4 stars
7/08/08 mitch sims you spelled 'golem' wrong. 5 stars
11/19/07 The Russian Lunch Lady I can't believe nobody thought of a film like this before. Awesome movie. 5 stars
10/21/07 Bopo Outstanding. Very different and wonderfully executed. 5 stars
9/09/07 ES Fantastic movie 5 stars
8/15/07 Ashley I liked it!! It was nice to see this side of Farrell. I like him this way!! 4 stars
5/31/07 Marty acting good but ferrel soso, ungrounded at beginning, ending overhyped in the movie itself 3 stars
5/27/07 TreeTiger About as entertaining as watching a tax audit... 1 stars
5/24/07 Tracey Chambers I liked it. It was different, and very entertaining. 4 stars
5/01/07 Indrid Cold A mostly unsuccessful attempt to make a Charlie Kaufman movie without Charlie Kaufman. 3 stars
4/29/07 izzy jesus if the devise is that crick is a real person, then how is considering killing him not evil. 1 stars
4/26/07 The Grinch What a piece of crap. It's no 'Being There', and Will Ferrell is no Peter Sellers. 2 stars
4/24/07 David Pollastrini very funny 4 stars
4/14/07 The Talking Elbow Best movie I've seen in a long time. Highly reccomended. 5 stars
3/20/07 M Craven It has Queen Latifah in it. What the fuck, man? 3 stars
3/18/07 AliCat Third Person Omniscient 5 stars
3/10/07 Phil M. Aficionado Script, cast, and acting skill rank well above the level of the storyline 3 stars
3/06/07 David Pollastrini good concept 3 stars
1/02/07 Dave Superb! Do we live our dreams or do they live us? 5 stars
12/27/06 Agent Sands One of the most intelligent and most well-made Hollywood films this year. 5 stars
12/22/06 marooshka I thought it was the best of the year...haters are just haters 5 stars
12/18/06 Ole Man Bourbon Cute. 4 stars
12/15/06 orpy I really liked it! Different and refreshing! 4 stars
11/21/06 Spartacusyentl Better than most movies today. This one involves too much thought for the average audience. 4 stars
11/20/06 A writer Why do we write? Or say or do anything at all? Watch this movie - enough said. 5 stars
11/19/06 Dadcat Answers the question"Which is more important: art, or ordinary life?" in Hegelian fashion. 5 stars
11/19/06 FrayLo I enjoyed it. Took a while to really get going, though. 4 stars
11/19/06 Elizabeth Promising concept but found myself surprisingly bored. 2 stars
11/17/06 Sir Spam-a-lot decent movie all around 4 stars
11/16/06 ajay very good. 5 stars
11/13/06 Nanonano Totally wonderful. still thinking about the odd moments. Good dialog against .....silence. 5 stars
11/13/06 Tiffany Losco Will ferrel is great!! 4 stars
11/12/06 LOLOL It has WIll Ferrel in it. Enough Said. 5 stars
11/11/06 Mary Brilliant, deep and thought provoking! 5 stars
11/11/06 chris. eh, could have used a better screenplay. 3 stars
11/10/06 Centipedes It has Will Ferrell in it. Enough Said. 1 stars
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  10-Nov-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Feb-2007



Directed by
  Marc Forster

Written by
  Zach Helm

  Emma Thompson
  Will Ferrell
  Maggie Gyllenhaal
  Queen Latifah
  Dustin Hoffman
  Tony Hale

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