Tonight I went to a PGA screening of the new film from Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland): Stranger Than Fiction. This high-concept dramatic comedy has a simple premise, with a twist: Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS auditor who suddenly one day starts to hear a woman’s voice narrating his every movement. He thinks he’s going crazy, until one day she indicates that the events have been set in motion that will result in his death. The twist is, it turns out that Harold is a character in a novel by famed writer Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), and she’s been stuck with writers block trying to figure out how to kill him. Her publisher has sent over Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to help her work through it. As Crick struggles with the thought of his eminent doom, he alters his long-standing predictable routine, and ends up falling in love with a baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who he is auditing. At the same time, he’s trying to find out who might be writing his life, with the help of literary professor Dr. Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), so he can stop her from killing him off.
This movie was excellent. It works on many different levels – both comedic and dramatic – while sending us a solid message about taking advantage of the opportunities presented to us, and breaking from our routines to open up new choices in life. Emma Thompson is great as the tortured writer who is struggling with her inability to find a meaningful way to kill of Harold, and Will Ferrell is surprisingly nuanced in his role as a man who is suddenly faced with his termination in this world. But by far, the best performance in the film is Dustin Hoffman, a professor of literature whose quirky habits and ultimate declaration that that a book is more important than a human life. It’s a must-see!
The film is definitely one of those “low budget high-concept comedic dramas” in the vein of Being John Malkovich, but done much better. It’s easily an Oscar-contender for many categories, and if you get a chance to see this one, you should take the opportunity to do so.