A review of “Stranger Than Fiction” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for brief language and nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

 

 

Director Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”) takes an intriguing premise and goes virtually nowhere with it, despite the best efforts of Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson.

What would life be like if you could hear a narrator chronicling your every move in excruciating detail? That’s the problem plaguing mild-mannered Chicago-based IRS agent Harold Crick (Ferrell) who suddenly hears a female voice dictating his day, from the number of strokes of his toothbrush to his tedious work with the Internal Revenue Service.

Ultimately the voice, belonging to a novelist (Thompson as Karen Eiffel) who’s struggling with the ending of her book, let’s slip that she’s looking for a neat way to script Crick’s demise, the missing link of her brilliant literary achievement. That’s all the incentive Crick needs to make changes and how.

Is Crick merely a work of fiction? A character in his own life? Along the way Crick meets tax-dodger cum baker Ana Pascal (the luminous Maggie Gyllenhaal), a quirky free-spirit who’s opting out of the government’s tax plan because she doesn’t approve of their spending habits. While Crick prepares her audit he falls hopelessly in love with her catchy bonhomie and his own unforeseen ability to step out of the box.

There’s a kernel of a good idea here, a Truman-esque collision of reality and fantasy that leaves open a myriad of comic and dramatic possibilities. Such as reconciling happiness and last chances or how to coalesce with fate. But writer Zach Helm, channeling his best Charlie Kaufman, loses his way, dropping tangents and dangling threads in a striking implosion of incongruent themes.  

Ferrell does subtlety well and his methodical Harold Crick is quick and well-timed. Kudos to the ladies -- both Thompson and Gyllenhaal raise expectations and work minor miracles with limited material and dead-end resolutions. Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah are wasted in lesser parts that lend little meaning to the big picture.

Stranger than fiction or maybe just plain strange.