Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

3 Stars

I always welcome the notion of a career comedian steps out of his element and turns to drama. It’s done well for the likes of Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show”, Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” and Jamie Foxx in “Ray”. We’re able to add Will Ferrell to that list, who takes a break from his usual goofy, over-the-top shtick to take on a toned down and more serious role in Marc Forster’s (“Finding Neverland”) new film “Strange Than Fiction.”

Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a lonely IRS agent who lives a simple and menial life until he starts hearing a woman’s voice narrating his life. He decides it’s not schizophrenia, as the voice isn’t communicating to him, it’s just talking about him and what he does, and seeks out help from a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) to help him figure out what the narrator means by “imminent death.” After the pseudo-soul searching he’s forced into, he changes his life so as to live it to it’s fullest before his death.

It’s a comedy of sorts. There are plenty of jokes in Zach Helm’s script to keep it light, but it’s still a somber piece that keeps the audience hooked by having us trying to figure out the end just as much as Crick is. And through the scenes involving Emma Thompson’s writer character Kay Eiffel, you become entrenched with the life and outcome of Crick.

Ferrell is of course the star, and he is able to prove to audiences that he is more than a “frat-pack” goofball. His emotional and subdued performance is gold and I can only hope that he does more dramatic work in the future.

I have yet to come across a performance of Hoffman’s that I don’t like. Sure some are better than others, but I’ve enjoyed them all. This is one of his average ones, and certainly won’t be one that will be spoken of at an Academy Awards or AFI tribute to him, but seeing a good actor work isn’t something that should be passed up. Maggie Gyllenhaal is still doing a balancing act between independent features and major studio productions. Here she plays the love interest of Crick, and while I don’t dislike her as an actor, she has yet to do a major studio film where she’s really good. She handles the smaller, edgier fair much better and until she finds a stronger voice, should stick to those for a while.

And that’s pretty much how the whole film goes. There is no wow factor to it. Hoffman, Thompson, Queen Latifah and Gyllenhaal, all competent, capable actors give middling performances in an intriguing film, but goes the route of the Hollywood happy ending, rather than the shockingly depressing ending. There’s almost a wink and a nod to the movie in relation to Eiffel’s book in a scene between Hoffman and Thompson. It’s ok but not great. And Thompson says she’s comfortable with ok, and explains her rationale behind it. It seems like the writer, director, actors and producers settled on ok, rather than trying for great. It works as an ok film. But that’s ultimately all it is, Ferrell’s award caliber performance aside.

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