Posted by: ckckred | April 4, 2013

Stranger Than Fiction

A Charlie Kaufman film not made by Charlie Kaufman

A Charlie Kaufman film not made by Charlie Kaufman

It’s hard to watch Stranger Than Fiction and not be reminded of Charlie Kaufman’s films.  From its likeness to Being John Malkovich to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Stanger Than Fiction has Kaufman’s fingerprints all over it.  Except Kaufman didn’t write it and that’s the movie’s greatest flaw.  Stranger Than Fiction is a copycat Charlie Kaufman movie that actually almost pulls off being a Charlie Kaufman movie, except it lacks Kaufman’s cleverness and wit.

From my opening statement, it may appear I disliked the film, which is not entirely the case.  I admired much of the movie and enjoyed it overall, but its unoriginality and contrived plotlines bog the film down.  There’s plenty to appreciate about Stranger Than Fiction but also plenty to criticize as well.

The film is about Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an IRS agent living a dull and ordinary life.  He keeps everything organized and tidy, he’s keen with numbers, and is a slave to time, keeping track of his wristwatch to monitor his work.

Crick’s life, however, soon diverts from its course when he hears a voice ringing in his head narrating his every actions.  That voice belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), an author currently writing a story whose main character is named Harold Crick.  Everything she writes happens to Harold, be him brushing his teeth or fantasizing about a bakery shop owner (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  Harold soon discovers from the voice that he would die soon, causing him to panic.

By now, it is easy to identify Kaufman’s influence on writer Zach Helm’s script.  Harold is, in a sense, a Kaufman character as droll as Joel from Eternal Sunshine or John Cusack’s puppeteer in Being John Malkovich.  Eiffel’s narration also is out of Kaufman’s book; it’s not too different than the portal to John Malkovich’s brain or the duplicacy in Adaptation.

So the movie isn’t original.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be bad.  Even a Charlie Kaufman rip-off is better than a majority of films that come out today.  But director Marc Forster can’t pull off the Kaufman-esque elements in the movie.  There are creative ideas worthy of the Kaufman brand, but Stranger Than Fiction takes up a series of clichés the famed screenwriter would never add in his stories.  Harold soon develops a relationship with the baker, and tries to do everything he pushed away in his life.  Many of the characters’ actions and decisions felt unreal, mostly coming from a literary professor played by Dustin Hoffman who attempts to assist Harold in his plight.  The ending as well tanks the film, ending the movie on the wrong note.

Yet despite its flaws, Starnger Than Fiction succeeds through Will Ferrell’s performance.  I am a fan of Ferrell, though I enjoy his Saturday Night Live work much more than his movies, and he is surprisingly restrained as Harold.  Ferrell stands as the best reason to see the movie and holds the film up despite its sloppy storytelling.

Stranger Than Fiction is a mixed bag.  Besides Ferrell’s performance, there’s nothing noteworthy about the film and feels like a waste of potential.  It’s not a bad movie, but it could have been so much more.

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Responses

  1. It is strange seeing Ferrell in a more subdued role, but he does it well!! Nicely reviewed buddy 🙂

    • Thanks! He does play the role very well. I’ve always liked Ferrell, and his performance is pretty good.

  2. I’m not a fan of Ferrell’s and that may be one reason I’ve passed on this one. Great review!

    • Thanks! Ferrell is more restrained here and is actually pretty good, but the rest of the film doesn’t match his performance.

  3. Nice review man. Not seen this but I’d be interested in catching it just to see Ferrell play a straighter role.

    • Thanks! Ferrell’s actually pretty good but the rest of the film isn’t.

  4. You absolutely nailed it with this review… you said everything that I’ve always thought! It’s Kaufman-lite but still interesting. I quite liked it but it was trying too damn hard.

    • Thanks! Kaufman-lite is a great way to describe it. The ending was pretty contrived and unbelievable.

  5. LOVED this film! That is all. 😀

    • Glad you liked it! Thanks for commenting.

      • No worries mate!!! 😀

  6. It’s interesting how the movie probably seems completely original to a lot of people, but there are so many likenesses to the work of Kaufman that it really isn’t. Ferrell does seem to do a good job when he tries for more serious performances.

    • Ferrell does do pretty well in dramatic roles. A lot of comedic actors actually do well when they take more serious movies. Even Adam Sandler, an actor I dislike, was great in Punch-Drunk Love. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Have not seen this but I do enjoy Ferrell in more serious roles so I may have to check this out.

    • Ferrell is pretty good here and it’s an enjoyable film overall, if flawed. Thanks for commenting.

  8. It’s a sweet movie that has something nice to say about humanity, but I agree: it isn’t perfect. Ferrell really did surprise me here though. Nice review.

    • Thanks! Ferrell is pretty good here, I’d like to see him star in more movies like this.

  9. I really dislike Ferrel but he was really good here, great film too!

    • Ferrell is pretty good, I’d like to see him star in more movies like this. Thanks for commenting.

  10. This could very well be my favorite Will Ferrell film ever. I like him in a more serious role and of course I adore Emma Thompson.

    • I like Ferrell in more serious roles as well. He should star in movies like this more often. Thanks for commenting.

  11. I don’t necessarily think Kaufman is established enough to have someone make a ‘copycat’ film, but I did not enjoy this film. It tries to describe the human condition, but comes off worse at doing so than a George Lucas film. 😛

    • Good point. I feel I was being too generous in my review. If it wasn’t so contrived, the film could have been much better. Thanks for commenting.

      • Yeah, Ferrell held his own, relatively speaking, but he couldn’t grip the script.

  12. I remember upon seeing the film that it was a great Ferrell performance for being subdued (Robin Williams comes to mind when he plays parts that are not over-the-top),but the movie was definitely lacking.

    It is worth noting that in Adaptation, Nick Cage plays a role radically different from his typical action star roles (he is dumpy-looking and bald lol), and I found his performance very enjoyable…similar to seeing Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land…Stallone’s performance was better than Keitel in that movie, something I would have never imagined.

    • Yeah, Ferrell gave a great performance. I like his SNL work, but in most of the movies he’s in he goes too far over the top.

      I was surprised about Stallone’s performance as well. I don’t like him as an actor but he was pretty good in that movie. Thanks for commenting.


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