Published at: Oct. 26, 2006, 7:02 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
It’s rare to come across a film that is equally delightful as it is literate. A film that is sharp, smart and comical, but just warms the very cockles of your heart while watching it. Usually this is the type of thing reserved for the classics of romantic literature – like a Jayne Austin adaptation. But as it turns out, Stranger than Fiction is just such a film. To describe it you have to draw on phrases like positively wonderful, absolutely enchanting or the word I ended up choosing above, simply, delightful. Because that’s what this is. Stranger than Fiction is the single best comedy I’ve seen all year.
One of those uncommon comedies that manages to transcend the genre and enter Oscar level territory (an award rarely offered to comedies) this film sets itself apart from the very beginning. There’s something about Emma Thompson’s melodic voice narrating the daily doldrums of her character’s life that takes what would normally be dull as shit and instead makes it effervescent. It gives the film the feel of reading a really great novel, which of course is the point. You feel enmeshed in a wonderful piece of literature rather than watching a strange, almost self-referential, comedy.
It is a feeling almost like watching a Charlie Kaufman film, directed by Albert Brooks, if Charlie Kaufman had become addicted to uppers, fell in love and then decided to write something a bit happier than he usually does. And every moment of it works.
Now long time readers will note that I share no particular love for Will Ferrell. I loved the hell out of Elf – where his man-child shtick was actually put to excellent use – and I’ve quite enjoyed a few of his supporting roles. But as a lead, his brand of comedy just doesn’t click with me. So seeing him in something like this was fantastic. This is his Man on the Moon, his Punch Drunk Love, in which he steps away from the comedy that made him and moves into a more mature style – putting himself in the hands of other comedians and properly exposing himself to a whole new audience that had long since written him off. This is the film that causes guys like me, and the scores of others out there, to stop muttering God I hate Will Farrell before shuffling into one of his movies. Yes, haters, it is that good.
And while Ferrell is the driving force and heart of the film, he is backed up by an absolutely spectacular cast including the aforementioned Emma Thompson as the neurotic novelist desperately struggling with writer’s block, Queen Latifah as her liason with the publisher chomping at the bit for the next book, Dustin Hoffman as the literature professor trying to help Ferrell discover what kind of novel he’s in and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the angry baker Ferrell is forced to audit. And everyone is in top form, most notably Thompson who is positively endearing and Gyllenhaal who is probably more adorable than she’s ever been on film. You simply fall in love with every wonderful character and delight in every moment you spend with them.
Marc Forster’s direction is top notch. This is a guy who seems all over the map stylistically. From his moody, Oscar nominated and winning Monster’s Ball, to his lovable Oscar nominated and Winning Finding Neverland, to his dreadfully mediocre and not even remotely nominated existential film Stay, the mans work hints at someone who refuses to stay nailed down to one type of film. Even the style of his films change from effort to effort. Here, his decision to uses what appears to be hand drawn outlines to simulate the things going on in Harold Crick’s (Ferrell) mind is possibly one of the best such devices I’ve seen used in recent film. Perfectly illustrating the things that neither the acting nor the narration could interestingly convey, it is little touches like this that make this my favorite of not only Ferrell’s body of work, but of Forster’s. And with Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland in that résumé, that’s saying an awful lot.
And on a personal note, I’d like to interrupt this sloppy blowjob of a review to personally thank Mr. Forster for his film Monster’s Ball. Not for the nudity or the quality of the film, but simply for the name. You see, once upon a time I was but a lowly video store clerk, schilling out mainstream films to costumers of a large retail chain store. And when Monster’s Ball won Halle Berry best Actress, droves of middle aged women swarmed the store looking for the film. But for some reason, the middle aged female mind had an extremely hard time wrapping itself around the title of the film and always, every single god damned time, transposed the ‘S’ from one word to the other. Some of the best moments of my video store career involved answering the oft asked question “Excuse me sir, but do you have Monster Balls?”.
Yes ma’am, I most certainly do.
So, thank you Mr. Forster. Now back to your regularly scheduled geekboy gushing, already in progress…
There isn’t a flaw in this film, not a single wasted moment, not a single wasted line. Everything about it, even on down to the bizarre casting choice of those two irritating guys that are always sitting in their car in those Sonic restaurant ads (together as Harold’s co-workers) comes out just right. I quite simply cannot recommend this film enough. Highest Recommendation.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.