11.13.2006

True Story:
Stranger than Fiction
is good


My dad and I have a running joke that half of all movies are in some way “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events.” And oftentimes by relying on the “inspirational” nature of these (invariably) dramatic movies, they become bland and predictable; before your little tooshie hits the seat you already know the guy makes the football team, the girl wins the case, the horse wins the race, and the deer catches the bullet with it’s face.

Fortunately, Stranger than Fiction takes the “inspired by true events” concept and turns it completely on it’s head. The result is an understated, funny, and surprisingly deep film that adeptly avoids the clichéd and commonplace.

The synopsis: A troubled writer (Emma Thompson) struggles to kill off her book’s main character, a methodical, lonely man named Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). Without warning or explanation, the writer’s foreboding narration descends upon the real-life Harold Crick (this is the “inspired by true events” part), triggering a rash of decisions and changes.

Let me get out one last warning (last one, I promise): this movie is not Talledega Nights, Elf, Old School, or Anchorman. If you walk into Stranger expecting to see drunk, naked men or guys getting high on tranquilizer darts then you will be disappointed. This isn’t to say there aren’t any laughs, because there are many, but the laughs in Stranger than Fiction are there because they punctuate the storyline and not the other way around.

I’d really like to explain exactly how Stranger than Fiction spins, punctuates and wraps up it’s storyline, but then I’d be robbing you of a lot of what makes this movie so special. Also, the plot defies cute, packaged descriptions. Suffice it to say, the storyline is unique and original and the characters are memorable and heartfelt in their actions and emotions.

Stranger Than Fiction has a lot of truth, just like my buddy Col. Jessep

Along those lines, Will Ferrell is superb as Harold Crick. Ferrell’s trademark humor and zaniness often lurks just beneath Harold’s blank surface but it creeps out often and to great effect. The film’s understated dialogue successfully emphasizes rather than restrains Will Farrell’s considerable comic abilities and on the whole, the dialogue crackles with sharp barbs, poignant asides, and textured conversations that are all too rare in recent films.

Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman also turn in excellent performances. Thompson is always a wonderful actress and her work here is no departure from the norm. On the other hand, I’ve been disappointed with several of Dustin Hoffman’s recent works (Meet the Parents 2), but his role as Professor Hilbert is restrained, smart, and very funny. Maggie Gyllenhaal also deserves praise despite a slightly uneven performance.

You’ll probably want to see Stranger than Fiction because of Will Ferrell, and rightfully so. But if you’re expecting a brainless Will Farrell flick, you’ll probably miss out on what’s in front of you; an excellent, understated film with a fair dose of humor and heart.

And that’s the truth.

8 comments:

Lizza said...

I saw the movie trailer and loved it. Reading your review makes me want to see it even more.

Got here via Ian, by the way.

Sadie said...

Oh man, you just ruined The Yearling for me.

Kidding. I think we'll go see that movie this weekend, thanks for the review!

Matt said...

lizza - I highly recommend it and I'm always happy to welcome new visitors. Glad to meet ya!

sadie - Glad to help (and sorry about the spoiler, hehe) and let me know what you think of the movie.

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