Stranger Than Fiction

Will Ferrell becomes the victim of an omniscient narrator in ‘Stranger than Fiction'

The Orlando SentinelNovember 10, 2006 

"Stranger Than Fiction" most certainly is.

Willfully eccentric, odd in tone, it's an English major's comedy, a wry exploration of plot, narrative, character and a writer's imprint on her or his work.

It's not particularly deep, and it won't be to everyone's taste.

But this whimsical character study is sunny, silly and worth the ride — if for nothing else, showing us that Will Ferrell can make even the straightest character funny.

Harold Crick (Ferrell) is a dull-as-dishwater IRS auditor who is all about efficiency and numbers. He times his every move, counts the strokes as he's brushing his teeth, and can multiply enormous sums in his head.

He's alone. He's not loved. He is, after all, the tax man. People such as the winsome, lefty tax-protesting baker he's auditing, Anna Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), cannot stand him.

But he has this new wristwatch. And it's not just a product placement ad for Timex. It will be, a voice in Harold's head says, "the catalyst for an entirely new life."

He's not told this. He overhears it.

It's narration, the story of his life, coming from the mouth of a writer, played by Emma Thompson. Harold must come to grips with having his life story narrated, smugly commented on, and faintly mocked by a woman he cannot see, a voice that only he hears.

After yelling "SHUT UP!" into the cosmos a few times, he sets out to find help. A shrink (Oscar-winner Linda Hunt) suggests "schizophrenia" and "medication." And when Harold rejects both, she sends him to a narrative theorist (Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman).

They set out to figure out whether Harold has anything to worry about, whether he's living a tragedy or a comedy.

"Tragedy, you die," Hilbert deadpans. "Comedy, you get hitched."

Meanwhile, the narrator has problems of her own.

She's a famous novelist suffering writer's block.

Thompson turns this woman into a chain-smoking wreck, a creative spirit grasping at inspiration wherever she can find it.

In other words, if you're looking for "Old School 2," you're going to be disappointed.

But embrace its vibe and make yourself open to its heart, and Ferrell and company will surprise you.

Stranger things have happened.

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