Stranger Than Fiction (dir. Marc Forster, 2006) – When Harold Crick hears a voice narrating his life in his head, he is determined to find who the author is, to prevent his potential death.
While reminiscent of Adaptation., Stranger than Fiction holds its own as an inspirational dramedy, full of warmth and enchantment.
There are two things in life for certain: death and taxes. No one knows this better than Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). The skilled auditor goes about his ordinary routine of his numbers trade, until the day that an author’s voice in his head foretells his imminent death.
This pitch may seem like Charlie Kaufman’s territory, but writer Zach Helm’s enchanting meta-fiction has its own charm. Taking a light approach akin to The Truman Show, Stranger than Fiction still draws upon thoughtful philosophy, as its leading man grapples with his new understanding of reality.
Set to find the author of his life and stop his death, Harold starts off by taking the advice of Professor Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). In determining if he is living a tragedy or comedy, the answer wavers back and forth. The same can be said for the film itself, its natural transition due to the fantastic match of Marc Foster’s direction to Helm’s screenplay.
It is chance that then leads Harold to neurotic depressive author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson). She is shaken to see her manuscript’s character in the real world, having spent weeks trying to kill him off on paper. While she has made a celebrated career out of tragedies for her protagonists, she soon discovers that the poetry of literary death simply cannot be replicated in reality.
Positing our daily lives and relationships as something dictated by predestination, the idea sounds unpalatable. But it is not quite so inconceivable. Grounded in our reality, the moral fable questions the existence of freewill, captivating us with its meditation on the value and elusive meaning of life.
Cleverly written and highly original, the drama never gets too pensive. It does not obsess with the big existential questions, nor does it ever ooze cloying sentimentality. Rather, we acquaint with a relatable everyday man, who has sunken into the comfort of a familiar dreary routine – work, sleep, repeat. That is until the proximity of death drives him to take back control of his life.
Through this, Will Ferrell showcases his dramatic talent above his perfect comedic timing. There is credibility in every turn of emotion, from his initial anxiety to his newfound freedom. His warmest moments lie in his relationship with the spirited baker Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), both endearing and genuine.
Imbued with heart and wit, Stranger than Fiction is an uplifting pursuit of ordinary forgotten dreams. It reminds us of our inevitable end, such that we may be spurred to live how we have always wanted. But why wait for that spark? As Professor Hilbert utters, “You will die, you will absolutely die.” And if there is no greater truth than that, then there is no excuse not to live just for today.