Stranger Than Fiction
2006: Marc Forster
Rated PG-13 – 113 minutes
Vault Rating: 7.5
It is called the “Video Vault Halo Effect.” It is a phenomenon that occurs when Vault chastises an actor or director in this space, generally roundly criticizing their career and credibility. Immediately upon opening our big mouth, said actor or director forces their way out of the dog house as we dine on crow.
Long-time readers will remember our very bad relationships with Julia Roberts and Woody Allen, both of whom have made exemplary films since we gave those esteemed opinions. Lots of people just love Julia and Woody all the time. Let’s just say that Vault sometimes has issues with them.
Likewise, Vault was really down on Will Ferrell. Said so, too. Then the “Saturday Night Live” alum came off brilliantly as a Nazi playwright in “The Producers” and smoked his starring role in today’s feature, “Stranger Than Fiction.” We shall skip over “Talladega Nights.”
Ferrell portrays an Internal Revenue Service auditor named Harold Crick whose life is bound by numbers and formulas. He counts the steps and minutes until he gets to his bus stop every morning. Graphs and numeric charts float in the air around his head. A math savant, he solves numeric problems far more easily than his emotional ones.
His life is complicated one day when he hears a voice (the charmingly British voice of Emma Thompson) that seems to be narrating his life. This quickly drives Harold to distraction and his normal, orderly world begins — at times literally — to crumble around him.
Central to this disarray is Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a leftist hippy-chick who runs a cookie shop and who is, as far as taxation is concerned, a conscientious objector. Thus these opposites comprise the standard “relationship movie” chassis.
The detailing, though, is an innovative cross-hatching of chick-flick and the kind of themes Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation”) made popular as Zach Helm’s script brings the narrative literally into prominence in the photoplay. In fact, Vault guesses that those who found Kaufman’s stuff too brainy or dense would be very at home with “Stranger Than Fiction.”
Crick eventually discovers that his life is somehow not really his own and that the voices in his head belong to a world-famous novelist (Thompson as author Karen Eiffel) whose trademark is killing off her main characters. While these stranger than fiction realities sink in, we delight in Eiffel’s clever meet-cute between Ana and Harold and hope that somehow, this time, Eiffel doesn’t 86 Mr. Crick.
It amounts to a pretty clever set of drapes on a standard chick-flick. And Will Ferrell sells it perfectly. He is so likable that the film wins you over in a rout and you find yourself joyfully going along with the clever premise. It is so clever, in fact, that Vault heartily recommends it.
So the Video Vault Halo Effect is in full force here as Will Ferrell joins Julia Roberts and Woody Allen in forcing Vault to reverse field. We expect even better things of Mr. Ferrell in the future.
You can join the Video Vault by sending your comments to us here at email@example.com and we’ll post your thoughts in the regular VaultMail column. And until somebody writes a happy ending for your life story … Enjoy!