The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

I’m going to do something a little different this time.  I’m going to start with a review, and end with a LIFEWRITING-style analysis.  There will be a general spoiler warning.

Stranger Than Fiction tells the story of an IRS agent (Will Ferrell) who finds himself a character in a tragic novel written by a depressive writer (Emma Thompson).  Long the victim of writer’s block Thompson is rising back to her heights, creating her very best work, which is both predictive of and influenced by Ferrell’s actions.  He can hear her narration in his head!  Worst of all, he knows that the book she is writing ends in his death.  While it sounds like a Charlie Kaufmann-esque conceit  (or even Harlan Ellison), it is an incredibly warm piece, and ultimately quite wise.  There is a touching, tentative romance with Maggie Gyllenhaal that slowly begins to open the buttoned-down Ferrell to the possibilities of life, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say my eyes misted up by the end.  Excellent work all around, even if Queen Latifah (playing Emma Thompson’s assistant) is wasted, and the fimmakers seem to have a fetish for overweight black women.  A B+.

This film can be viewed as either Ferrell’s story, OR Thompson’s story, but Ferrell’s “Harold Crick” character is front and center, so let’s go that way.
HERO CONFRONTED WITH CHALLENGE:  Harold begins to hear a voice in his head narrating his life.
REJECTS CHALLENGE:  He doesn’t want to believe it, thinks that he may be going insane.
ACCEPTS CHALLENGE:  When he learns that the book ends in his death, he takes this situation very, very seriously indeed.
ROAD OF TRIALS: He searches for answers, while simultaneously going about his job, specifically auditing a free-spirited young woman who deliberately underpaid her taxes to protest the Iraq war.  His relationship with this woman begins to open up a locked chest of emotions as he realizes how wasted his life has been, and how much he wants to live.  Through a series of efforts he finds Thompson, and actually obtains an early copy of the book so that he can see how he will die, hoping to prevent it.
ALLIES AND POWERS:  Dustin Hoffman’s literature professor.  Gyllenhaal’s free-spirited baker.  Even Emma Thompson, whose poetic prose leads him to a new understanding of life. He is intelligent, decent, kind, and capable of great love and tenderness.
CONFRONT EVIL—DEFEATED:  It comes in waves.  Understanding the meaningless nature of his life is probably the real kicker, even more than the sense that he cannot outrun his fate.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: Literally an all-night reading of the fatal book.
LEAP OF FAITH: His realization that a meaningful death gives his life purpose.
CONFRONT EVIL—VICTORIOUS:  He gives his life to save a young boy.
STUDENT BECOMES TEACHER: His sacrifice “opens” the depressive Thompson to the possibility of joy.  She re-writes the end of the book to let him—just barely—survive.

SURVIVAL: The story directly involves a struggle to stay alive.
SEX: Yep.  A beautiful and delicate relationship with Maggie.
POWER:  He makes his living as an IRS agent, but ultimately the film is about taking control of your life—however many days or hours we have to live.
HEART:  The opening of his heart is accomplished through the “relationship mirror” offered by Maggie.
COMMUNICATION:  He cannot speak his hopes and dreams.  When he finally becomes capable of telling Maggie that he wants her, it is almost transcendant.
INTELLECT:  A trap.  He is smart as a whip, and lives totally in his head for the first third of the film.
SPIRIT:  The film deals with mortality, in a fantasy context where one human being (Thompson) creates the life of another (Ferrell) but in their interaction, they re-make each other.

A lovely, lovely piece of work.


kamagra said...

Will Ferrell movies are awesome, his humor is one of the best, one of his best movies was Land of the Lost.

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