Stranger Than Fiction

  • Film
  • Drama
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Who’d have thought metatextually inflected existential crises would get a comedy subgenre all of their own? It’s largely down to Charlie Kaufman, of course, whose scripts for ‘Being John Malkovich’, ‘Adaptation’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ established that postmodern audiences don’t mind their narratives served both scrambled and pre-digested – especially if they come with side orders of wit and outré animation. The mode has since been taken up by David O Russell (‘I Heart Huckabees’), Kaufman’s collaborator Michel Gondry (the forthcoming ‘The Science of Sleep’), and first-time feature writer Zach Helm, with this sometimes enjoyable if more conventional tale.

Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a chronically unassuming taxman with a problem: he’s got a narrator, a voice in his head (Emma Thompson’s, in fact) providing a commentary on his actions, feelings and condition, but inaudible to everyone else, including the feisty but warm-hearted café-owner he’s auditing (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Desperate, he turns to lit crit prof Dustin Hoffman (more or less reprising his ‘Huckabees’ schtick) for advice.

A great idea for a formally playful short stitched to a standard-issue opposites-attract romcom, ‘Stranger than Fiction’ benefits from brisk pacing and engaging performances – especially from an affectingly muted Ferrell, who pulls off a coup comparable to Jim Carrey’s breakout metaphysical stooge role in ‘The Truman Show’. But the film struggles under its increasingly weighty pretensions to literary credibility and even tragic status, stumbling towards an unconvincing and cloying conclusion. Deconstructing fiction is one thing, taping it back together again quite another.

Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday December 1 2006
Duration: 113 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Marc Forster
Screenwriter: Zach Helm
Cast: Will Ferrell
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Dustin Hoffman
Emma Thompson
Queen Latifah
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