A Novel Idea

Stranger than Fiction. Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson,
Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Dustin Hoffman star in a film written by
Zach Helm and directed by Marc Forster.

Reviewed by Molly Freedenberg

Will Ferrell proves his acting chops in this surprising, sweet,
and smart film about a man who discovers he’s the main character in
a writer’s novel — and the writer plans to kill his character.
Sound Kaufman-esque? It is, sort of. But Stranger than Fiction
isn’t quite as dark and cerebral as Adaptation. Instead, it’s
charming and endearing, which suits it just fine.

Treated differently, the movie could’ve seemed silly or goofy,
and the choice of Ferrell as the lead would seem to suggest that’s
where it would go. But impeccable casting combined with a good
script make this film subtly funny but not too serious.

Emma Thompson is fantastic as Kay Eiffel, the tortured, morbid
novelist with writer’s block who narrates Harold Crick’s (Ferrell)
life. Dustin Hoffmann is even better as Jules Hilbert, the quirky
literary professor who agrees to help Crick find out who’s writing
his story. Queen Latifah, as Penny Escher, is a convincing
assistant to Eiffel, though her character (by no fault of her own)
feels more like a plot device than a necessary part of the story.
And Maggie Gyllenhaal is downright irresistible as Ana Pascal,
Crick’s love interest. Even the bit part of Crick’s friend from
work, Dave, is perfectly cast with Tony Hale, who played the
fantastically funny Buster on Arrested Development.

With these acting heavyweights and inventive cinematography,
though, the film could’ve gone to another level. It almost feels as
though the story could’ve used another edit — one which fleshes out
Escher’s character, for example, or further explores how and why
Pascal would actually fall for Crick. It’s also notable that the
film never really addresses the issue of how a real person ends up
being a character in a novel in the first place.

But none of these shortcomings ruin the movie. On the contrary,
it’s a solidly good film that engages the viewer on emotional,
intellectual, and visual levels. It’s a far cry (thankfully) from
Bewitched and Talladega Nights and makes me look forward to what
Ferrell will come up with next.


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