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Stranger Than Fiction (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Will Ferrell in a good movie? Yes, you read that correctly. Not only that, but the positive rating is due in large part to Ferrell’s effective acting. This isn’t the stupid, silly Ferrell from “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman.” This is a guy who can act when given a good script (first-timer Zach Helm) and brilliant direction (Marc Forester), which he gets here.

Adding to the reasons why this is such a good movie are the performances of Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, and Queen Latifah, to name a few.

Harold Crick (Ferrell) finds himself in a metaphysical, Kafkaesque dilemma; he’s an unwitting, unwilling character in a novel being written by Kay Eiffel (Thompson). He hears her voice as she’s writing about him. Kay, who always kills off her protagonists, doesn’t know she’s writing about a real person. He doesn’t know to whom the voice he hears giving a play-by-play of his life belongs. When he complains about the voice to doctors, they dismiss it by saying he must be schizophrenic. Then he finds college professor Jules Hibert (Hoffman), a teacher of literature, who agrees to try to help Harold solve his problem.

The only weak scene in the movie occurs when Ana Pascal (Gyllenhaal), a baker Harold is auditing and for whom he falls, and Harold have their first kiss. There was nothing soft, sweet, or affectionate about the way Ana attacks Harold. In fact, the way she was attacking his face with her mouth it looked as if Harold needed some sort of protection to protect his lips, teeth, and tongue. Not anything I would call sweet, affectionate, or erotic. When I see a scene like this, I wonder about its derivation. Does Gyllenhaal not know how to kiss? Does the director think that people find this type of love-making funny? I thought it neither funny nor romantic.

But that’s small potatoes considering the theme and depth of the movie. There’s a lot more here than comes across in the misleading promotion. Ferrell and Thompson give spectacular performances. Ferrell plays it straight, something he should try more often, like, always. He takes a difficult role and wins the day with a sensitive and believable portrayal. Good as Ferrell is, Thompson gives a performance that blew my mind as a conflicted writer, fighting her unseen demons. This is a film of a tightly controlled man who loses the beloved control he has over everything he does, and how he responds and reacts. Advertised as a comedy, there are some funny lines. But as the movie progresses it’s got far too much depth to be viewed as a frivolous comedy.

 November 7, 2006