It’s the last day of the month and it has already started off on an odd note. It started with what sound like someone screaming outside (which I actually had to pause the movie to try and figure out what I heard) and continued about an hour later with a pretty brief, but intense, sudden bout of rain. This has me wondering what else is in store for me today. Anyways, today’s movie was one that actually caught my interest when I saw the trailers for it. I didn’t get the chance to see it in theaters but rented it when it came out on video and liked it enough to buy a copy shortly afterwards. So let’s have some laughs with today’s movie, Stranger Than Fiction (2006).
The plot: Harold Crick is a single man whose life is controlled by numbers; from the specific number of times he brushed his teeth, to the number of steps he took to the bus. Harold, a senior agent for the I.R.S., lives a rather lonely life, only taking a 45 minute lunch break and a 5 minute coffee break, which he times with his wristwatch, before going home, eating, and going to bed at the exact same time every day. One Wednesday, Harold hears a voice narrating his everyday life, which confuses him and causes some of his co-workers to become concerned about him. Harold is given the file for a banker named Ana Pascal, who has come under audit for not paying all of her taxes. As they talk, the voice continues narrating some of Harold’s thoughts, prompting Ana to comment on his staring at her. Harold denies it and leaves, telling Ana he will be back later to go over her past returns and heads outside, where he begins yelling at the voice to shut up. Meanwhile, novelist Karen Eiffel is standing on her desk wondering what it would be like to jump off a building when she is surprised by the arrival of her new assistant, Penny Escher. Karen is annoyed at Penny’s arrival, feeling like she is nothing more than a spy from the publishers as she is having a bout of writer’s block in finishing her book, but Penny tells her that she is there simply to help make sure that Karen finishes her latest book on time and will help her figure out how to kill Harold Crick. Back at the I.R.S., Harold is sent to HR, where the HR manager says some of his coworkers are getting concerned about him and suggests Harold take a vacation. As Harold leaves work that day, his watch suddenly starts acting up and Harold thinks it is just on the fritz, not realizing that it was trying to tell him that Ana was walking across the street. When his watch stops, Harold asks someone for the time so he can reset it and as he does, the voice tells him that his action will lead to his death. When Harold hears this, he starts questioning what is going on and tears apart his apartment, trying to get the voice to explain how or why he is going to die. Harold goes to see a psychiatrist, who believes he is suffering from schizophrenia, but when Harold swears he isn’t and says it feels like he is a character in a story, she suggest he speak to someone who knows literature. Harold goes to see Professor Jules Hilbert, a literary professor, and speaks to him about what is happening and Hilbert says he can’t help him but when Harold repeats verbatim what the voice said, Hilbert becomes intrigued at it’s usage of “Little did he know” and asks Harold to meet him the next day. As Harold is on the bus, the voice alerts him to Ana boarding and he attempts to talk to her, offering an apology for staring at her the other day. Ana accepts the apology and the two engage in some small talk but Harold, listening to the voice, decides to quit before he makes an ass of himself and gets off the bus, not realizing that he is 27 blocks from where he wanted to go. Harold meets up with Hilbert and Hilbert tries to figure out what kind of story Harold’s life is becoming, whether it is a comedy or a tragedy. Meanwhile, Karen and Penny are sitting in the rain, as Karen is trying to get an idea about a car crash during bad weather. Harold heads back to the bakery to begin Ana’s audit, and she shows him that she threw all her files and receipts into a box just to mess with him. After working through the day, Harold goes to leave but Ana convinces him to sit down and eat a cookie she just finished baking. As they sit and eat cookies, Harold asks her how she became a baker and she explains that she was in Harvard Law and would always bake things during her study sessions and at the end of the semester, she had a lot of great recipes and a D average so she decided to drop out and continue baking. As Harold goes to leave, she boxes up the rest of the cookies for him to take home but he refuses, saying that they could constitute a bribe. Ana gets offended and throws the cookies away and as he leaves, Harold apologizes, realizing that she had baked them for him to be nice and apologize for how she treated him during the day. At Hilbert’s suggestion, Harold decides to call out of work the next day and do absolutely nothing but as he is watching TV, his apartment is partially demolished due to a mixup from the construction crew, mistaking it for an abandoned building. Harold goes to see Hilbert, who tells Harold that he is not in control of his own destiny and he should just live his life. Harold goes to stay at his friend Dave’s place and asks him what he always wanted to do and Dave admits he wanted to go to space camp but never did. Harold, who always wanted to play the guitar, decides to go buy one and as the voice narrates the various choices, he finally picks one. As he goes to bed, his wristwatch highlights Ana’s name and he decides to go and apologize for his actions. Harold catches up to her as she closes her bakery, bring her some flours (the baking kind) as an apology, and says he knows he has been acting weird but admits that he wants her. Ana invites him back to her place and as the talk some, he notices her guitar and starts playing the song he learned, and after sitting next to him and listening for a bit, she promptly starts kissing him and they end up having sex. As he lies in bed with Ana, the voice tells him that she is falling love with him, prompting Harold to smile. Harold goes to see Hilbert and tells him he thinks he is in a comedy and Hilbert, who had been coming up with a list of authors who might be writing his story, says that that changes things. As Hilbert starts thinking of different authors, Harold hears the narrators voice coming from the TV and realizes that it is Karen Eiffel. When he tells Hilbert that she is the narrator, Hilbert apologizes, saying that she wasn’t on his list but also that all of her main characters die. Harold tries to get Karen’s contact information from the publisher and when that fails, he uses her tax records to find her phone number. As Harold tries calling her, Karen is writing that exact sequence, shocked when the phone rings each time she types it. After it occurs the third time, she answers the phone and is shocked to hear Harold talking to her. Harold goes to meet Karen, who is shocked that he looks exactly like she described him in her book. Harold pleads with her not to kill him and she admits that she already wrote the outline for her books ending but hasn’t typed it yet and when Harold argues with her about it, Penny suggests that she let him read it so Karen gives him her hand written copy of the book to read. Harold takes it to Hilbert and explains what happened and hands him the manuscript, saying he couldn’t bring himself to read it and asks that he do it. Hilbert reads it and tells Harold that he has to die, as this is probably Karen’s masterpiece. Meanwhile, Karen is wondering if all of the other characters in her books were actual people just like Harold before she killed them but Penny argues that they were not real. Harold takes the manuscript and reads it while riding on the bus and he goes to see Karen and tells her that he loved the book and she should finish it. Harold goes about his last day, spending the evening with Ana and the next morning, he wakes up and heads to work, not realizing that when he reset his watch, he had set it 3 minutes fast. As he waits for the bus, a little boy riding his bike falls in the street right in front of the oncoming bus and Harold jumps out to push the boy to safety, getting struck by the bus himself while in her office, Karen cries out over what she had just written, knowing that she had just killed Harold. Harold comes too and finds that he had been severely injured but alive, as a piece of his watch had broken off and blocked an artery in his arm, keeping him from bleeding out. As Ana comes to visit him and he explains what happened, Karen goes to see Hilbert and shows him the finished work. Hilbert reads it and says that it is ok and asks why she changed it and she admits she couldn’t bring herself to kill Harold after having met her. When he tells her that the book felt weaker without Harold’s death, she tells him that the story was about a man unexpectedly dying and Harold sacrificing himself to save the boy would not have worked so she chose the wristwatch, which she had anthropomorphized throughout the book, was the one to die instead.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006) met with mostly praise from the critics, holding a certified fresh rating of 72% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “A fun, whimsical tale about an office drone trying to save his life from his narrator, Stranger Than Fiction features a subdued performances from Will Ferrell that contributes mightily to its quirky, mind-bending affect.” During filming, Will Ferrell wore an earpiece that fed him Emma Thompson’s narrative lines, allowing the other actors to react more naturally to Will’s seemingly non-sequitur lines. The movie was a modest hit at the box office, earning $53.7 million off of a $30 million budget.
This was a surprisingly good movie. The acting was good, with Will Ferrell (Harold) doing a surprisingly good job in a more dramatic role than people are used to seeing out of him. Emma Thompson also did a great job as Karen, especially during the scenes after she meets Harold as she really showcased the anguish she was feeling as she struggles with the choice of whether finishing her book is worth killing someone. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Ana) and Dustin Hoffman (Hilbert) were also really good in their performances. The story was very well written, which is fitting since the basis of the movie is about a book. I liked that good mix between drama and comedy that was in the movie, as well as the premise that sometimes you have no control over your life and it feels like you are simply a character in someone else’s story, a feeling that a lot of people have at one point or another. A good movie that is definitely worth watching if you get the chance.
Rating: 4 out of 5