By Molly McCormick
He’s played a misogynistic newscaster, a cheery Christmas elf, and a big-mouthed racecar driver. In Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell can add a new role to that list: romantic leading man.
In a surprisingly heartfelt performance, Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a mild-mannered IRS agent who suddenly hears a voice in his head, one that is describing his life. The voice speaks about him “accurately, and with a better vocabulary,” Crick explains to a psychologist.
The eloquent voice Harold hears belongs to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), an afflicted author who cannot figure out how to kill off Crick, her protagonist in a novel-in-progress. Unbeknownst to Eiffel, her seemingly fictional hero can hear nearly every enunciated detail, punctuation point and simile that she types onto a page.
Frustrated and confused, Crick turns to Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), an eccentric English professor who helps him figure out what genre of literature he’s in and who’s penning it.
“Have you met anyone recently who loathes the very core of you?” asks Hilbert. “I’m an IRS agent,” Crick replies.
“Everyone hates me.”
Everyone, including Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a quirky, tattooed bakery shop owner who’s being audited by Crick. Despite an unfortunate first meeting, Crick can’t stop thinking about her, and the two eventually fall in love. I was pleasantly surprised at Gyllenhaal and Ferrell’s chemistry. Their relationship didn’t seem forced or contrived, but genuine and sweet.
When writer and creation finally meet, Eiffel is faced with a terrible dilemma: should she kill off her main character to complete her masterpiece, or should she let him live, thus ending her illustrious career?
Stranger Than Fiction does for Ferrell what The Truman Show did for Jim Carrey. It shows that an actor/comedian can be more than pratfalls and cheap laughs. Ferrell’s brand of humor is present, but understated.
The movie is poignant and funny, with well-rounded characters, an intriguing plot, and a satisfying ending — not unlike a good book.