Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Stranger Than Fiction

Directed by Marc Forster and written by Zach Helm, Stranger Than Fiction is the story of an IRS auditor who learns that he’s a character in a book that’s being written as he also learns that he is about to die. The film is an exploration into a man learning about his death as he tries to make some changes where he falls for an anarchist baker while the writer tries to figure out how to end her book. Starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah, Tony Hale, Linda Hunt, and Dustin Hoffman. Stranger Than Fiction is a quirky yet charming film from Marc Forster.

The world of reality and fiction is very unique as the film is an exploration of a man who hears a mysterious voice where he learns that he is a character for a book being written as the writer reveals that he will die. While dealing with this crisis about his death, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) tries to come to terms with his work as an IRS auditor as he falls for an anarchist baker in Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Especially as he decides to live his life without thinking about numbers while coming to a literary professor about his experiences. Meanwhile, the book’s writer in Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is dealing with trying to find a way to kill Harold Crick for her book where Crick eventually finds out the identity of the narrator he’s been hearing. It all plays into a writer dealing with her own artistic morality and a man dealing with who he is as they both endure their own existential crises.

Zach Helm’s screenplay starts off playing into what Harold Crick does as he lives his life based on numbers as it is part of a routine that he does. Much of it is told through Eiffel’s narration where all of a sudden, Crick starts to hear her voice as it would affect his work where he would meet his greatest challenge in Ana who despises everything that Harold does as she refuses to pay taxes that she owes. Harold’s encounter with Ana and some of things that’s happening to him in his life would force him to make some changes as he seeks the advice of literary professor Jules Hibbert (Dustin Hoffman) who is asked to find any idea on who the author is which adds to this blur of reality and fiction.

Especially as some of the fiction is played in Eiffel’s head as she struggles with writer’s block while she is being watched by an assistant in Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) who is making sure that Eiffel finishes her book. Yet, reality and fiction would eventually collide when Eiffel learns that the character she is creating is indeed real where it would play not just into her conflict about her ending but also a conflict in Harold over what he would do. Even as Hibbert would play a role into Harold’s fate based on his literary expertise as it plays into the conflict of what is right for the sake of art.

Marc Forster’s direction is very simple in terms of his compositions yet manages to infuse a lot of light-humor and drama to play into the quirkiness of the film. Much of it is shot on location in Chicago which plays into this world that is quite modern but also quaint as it serves as this unique reality in Harold’s life where he has his routines only for things to fall apart in the course of the film. Some of the direction include some unique wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups along with some very engaging approach to the framing in the way Crick is portrayed early on as he is shown in very tight framing devices. Things definitely change once he starts to loosen up and the film begins to feel much looser while the scenes involving Eiffel are a mixture of differing styles where she’s dreaming in some scenes while her struggles are shown in very direct medium shots and close-ups. Even as Forster maintains that idea of comedy vs. tragedy that adds to the film’s conflict where it would play into the climax over what might be Harold’s death. Overall, Forster crafts a very exhilarating and witty portrait of a man who learns about his death as he starts to live and defy the expectations of his possible fate.

Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer does excellent work with the film’s cinematography where he infuses a few shadings and such for some of the film’s interior settings along with low-key lights for some scenes set at night while keeping the daytime scenes very simple. Editor Chesse does nice work with the editing with its rhythmic cuts to play into some of the film’s action and humor while infusing a few montages in the film. Production designer Kevin Thompson, with set decorator Ford Wheeler and art director Craig Johnson, does fantastic work with the very lifeless look of Harold‘s apartment and the IRS office to the more colorful and lively look of Ana‘s bakery and home.

Costume designer Frank L. Fleming does terrific work with the costumes as it’s mostly casual while the clothes that Ana wears play to her anarchist ideals. Visual effects supervisor Kevin Tod Haug does amazing work with the visual effects that often pop-up to play into Harold’s obsession with numbers. Sound editor Geoffrey G. Rubay is superb for the way it plays into some of the film’s locations as well as Harold’s reactions to what he’s hearing. The film’s brilliant music soundtrack is supervised by Brian Reitzell and Britt Daniels as they provide their own score that mixes a few orchestral pieces with some post-punk based cuts while the soundtrack includes pieces by the Clash, the Jam, Spoon, Wreckless Eric, Delta 5, and M83.

The film’s casting by Kathy Driscoll and Francine Maisler is great as it features some notable small performances from Linda Hunt and Tom Hulce as two shrinks that Harold meets upon his breakdown plus a terrific performance from Tony Hale as Crick’s co-worker and friend Dave who tries to find a fun life outside of work. Queen Latifah is excellent as Penny who watches over Eiffel to see if she’ll finish the book while being baffled by Eiffel’s quirky behavior. Dustin Hoffman is amazing as Professor Jules Hibbert as this very smart man who knows about the ideas of literature as he tries to help Harold over his situation while being someone who will play into Harold’s fate. Emma Thompson is brilliant as Karen Eiffel as a revered novelist who is struggling to finish her book and kill Harold Crick as Thompson brings a lot of humor to her character as well as an internal conflict over artistic morality.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is fantastic as Ana Pascal as this fiery baker who refuses to pay her taxes due to her anarchist beliefs as she tries to torture Harold only to realize that he’s not a bad guy as it’s a performance full of humor and warmth. Finally, there’s Will Ferrell in a remarkable performance as Harold Crick where it’s Ferrell in a very restrained performance where he endures all sorts of humiliating moments while trying display someone who had been obsessed with his routines only to be alive as it’s a performance with a lot of heart that showcases Will Ferrell doing more than what is expected from him in the comedies he’s usually in.

Stranger Than Fiction is a phenomenal film from Marc Forster that features a winning lead performance from Will Ferrell. Along with great supporting work from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, and Dustin Hoffman. It’s a film that plays into the world of reality and fiction plus a man trying to find a new lease on life. In the end, Stranger Than Fiction is a witty yet sensational film from Marc Forster.

Marc Forster Films: (Everything Put Together) - (Monster’s Ball) - Finding Neverland - (Stay (2005 film)) - (The Kite Runner) - Quantum of Solace - (Machine Gun Preacher) - (World War Z)

© thevoid99 2014


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I absolutely love this film, and I feel like I love it more and more when I hear others talk about it. I love the "I brought you flours" scene.

ruth said...

I'm not Will Ferrell's biggest fan but I LOVE this film. Perhaps because he plays against type here. LOVE the cast too, esp Emma Thompson and Queen Latifah.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I love that scene too. It's funny and sweet. I have the film on DVD which I bought for $5.

@ruth-I think Will Ferrell should do more of these kind of films because he has the talent to do stuff like this. Plus, he's not degrading himself to the lowest common denominator like Adam Sandler.

ruth said...

"...he's not degrading himself to the lowest common denominator like Adam Sandler." Amen. I can't even stand watching the trailer of Adam Sandler movies, if you can even call 'em that!

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-They're not even movies let alone bad movies. They're just infinite nothingness brought to you by endless product placements, unearned sentimentality, and all sorts of bullshit.