Saturday, November 11, 2006

Stranger than Fiction

Yesterday I was on doctor's orders to be a "lady of leisure" so I went to a matinee of Stranger than Fiction. I was looking to laugh, and I did, but it's not a guffaw kind of movie. Not just because it's basically a one-joke premise, but because Will Ferrell plays the straight man. Super straight – he's an IRS agent with an uncanny mind for figures and little else. And everyone else plays their part with some seriousness too. Their earnest portrayals are what is most funny in some ways.

So Ferrell's character is hearing a narrator, and the narrator is an angst-ridden chain-smoking author working on a book (played by Emma Thompson). The problem arises when it becomes obvious to Ferrell's character that the author is planning his character's death.

He seeks help from a literary expert played by Dustin Hoffman, and this was the source of one of my favorite scenes. Hoffman comes up with a list of seemingly ludicrous questions for our fictional friend to answer. "Do you have any special powers?" "Was any part of you once part of something else?" etc. After insisting on this totally ridiculous list for a number of questions he then reveals he has just ruled out something like most of the classic Greek stories, most fairy tales, and a good part of Chinese mythology in his effort to figure out what kind of story Ferrell is in.

I think if this movie was a little more complex it would have scored on the order of something like I [Heart] Huckabees, not Adaptation. Its unbelievable parts might have just been more expected in the surreal order of things. Like Queen Latifah's author's assistant character was only there to make the author's side of things not all internal so it would work in the film probably, but I didn't buy it. And the beautiful punk waif baker falling for the IRS agent? Yeah, right.

There is a real charm to the movie, though. The main character is a left-brained IRS agent with autistic-like mental powers for rational thought -- particularly numbers. We can see his calculations and counting of things overlaid on the screen. And like many people we know who rely so heavily on their rational sides, this makes him admirably smart And really kind of boring. He's flat and machine-like.

But as his character feels lust/love, some of this eases. As the character interacts socially it eases, as he interacts with his senses, it eases, and as he faces a severe fear of death he starts to live and appreciate and find his soul. Then, he's willing to face death.

When I was watching, the movie ended, the credits seemed about to roll, and then the reel appeared to suddenly end or be ripped out. I actually rather liked that unintentional abruptness as the ending to the



At 3:53 PM, Blogger David said...

I think I saw it around the same time you did, and I liked it maybe a bit more.

So you don't think that the baker could fall for the IRS guy even after the bit with the flowers? (that was when he had me, anyway). Maybe it's just wishful thinking on a guy's part.

Some other things about the movie charmed me as well: Isn't it kind of neat that the narrator keeps mentioning the watch, and giving it some sort of consciousness early on? It ends up giving her the way to keep him alive - the watch gives up it's life to save him at the same moment he was to do the same. Very elegant to include the last image and reference to its sacrifice in the final montage.

Also, like Harold, I liked the little set piece about the guitars. It's almost formulaic, but still worked because the writer didn't overdo it.

In a way, there is a sort of painted-into-a-corner problem with a character who is 'designed' to be bland, flat, and almost inhuman. In order for us to care about Harold, the writer has to make him interesting, and the fact that he can react to the narration isn't interesting enough. It's only when he attempts things that are a bit odd that he can become more 3-dimensional. Some of that (like the aforementioned flowers) worked for me, but other scenes(like the ridiculously bombastic and totally predictable wrecking ball when he refuses to do anything to move the plot along) didn't work at all, and I almost suspect were put in there just so they would be able to have something in the trailer where they get to 'blowed thangs up'.

I inevitably compare this to 'The Truman Show'. That had 3 things going for it over this story: 1. A better character (Truman was supposed to be lovable, so no painted-in-a-corner problem there). 2. A better actor for serious roles (Despite his tendency to mug, Jim Carrey has a lot of energy that I think Ferrell lacks in this). 3. A plot that obeys the laws of physics. Yes, it's improbable that a person or group would create an entire island community for the purposes of a reality TV show, but the wierd blending between fiction and reality in this story that reminds me of Woody Allen's 'The Purple Rose of Cairo' or maybe even Stephen King's 'The Dark Half' requires a boatload more suspension of disbelief. And what are the new rules, anyway? When Harold recognizes and calls the writer, why should they be able to meet and talk? Was the moment he started hearing her narration the moment he 'became' a literary character? What about all of the narration up to that point?

Anyway, perhaps I should just bite the bullet and blog about it too, rather than clutter up your comment section. :)


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