Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Movie For Book People

First off, credit to someone in Hollywood for finally having an original idea. After years of remakes, franchise sequels and film versions stuff we’ve seen in other mediums we finally have something that is about as original a concept as there has been in recent years.

I’m talking about “Stranger Than Fiction” the latest offering from the current golden boy Saturday Night Live Alum Will Ferrell. Now before you go on expecting another Elf or Ron Burgundy type performance I’m going to warn you upfront: Will Ferrell underplays his role. He underplays it so much in fact he accepts the fact that he is not the best actor in the film. By my count he is solidly in the bottom two.

But that’s where this movie separates itself from other Will Ferrell movies. Instead of playing someone with more mouth than brains here we see Ferrell as Harold Crick, IRS agent and watch wearer. That’s about the extent of his character at the start of this film.
A humdrum character who goes through an extraordinary series of events in a short period of time. The first of which is hearing a voice narrate his life.

That narrator is the voice of Emma Thompson and she’s not just narrating the movie, she’s the voice of author Kay Eiffel who is writing the book in which Crick is the main character.

Finally convinced he is not crazy and actually living in a story he seeks out literature Professor Jules Hilbert played by Dustin Hoffman, who is the best actor in the movie and steals every scene he is in.

As it turns out Eiffel’s literary style is such that she kills off the main character in all of her stories and Crick is her next victim. This has Crick quite upset.

Rounding out the cast is Queen Latifah, the author’s assistant sent by the publisher to get Kay off her writer’s block. I’ve said it before and I must stress the point. Rappers don’t make bad movies. And the Queen continues that tradition.

Finally we have Crick’s love interest. Played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. A college dropout baker hippy wannabe who Crick finds himself auditing. Can you guess what happens next? I’ll give you a hint, It’s not Will Ferrell sleeping with Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah or Dustin Hoffman!

You just won’t understand the complexity of this movie unless you read good books. Not just novels you find in the grocery store line, but really good books by people whose names get used in sentences with words like “literature” and “genius”. Tom Wolfe comes to mind, as does John Updike. People whose stories show real human growth and where seemingly insignificant things become the defining factors in the characters’ lives.

If you’ve read these kinds of books you know what I’m talking about, and you’ll get what this movie is about. You see this movie is not so much about the principle character Harold Crick, but really about the book Kay Eiffel is writing.

Those great books you’ve read, this is the story about how those great authors come up with those books.

If it’s possible for a movie to make you appreciate books this is the best attempt to do so. Ferrell’s performance is passable because he under acts for once in his career. His casing in the main role was simply to sell tickets, but it is by allowing the rest of the cast to lift up his performance that makes the movie better than the sum of it’s parts.

The movie is PG-13 and deservedly so for sexual situations and a wholly unnecessary f-bomb. But the appeal is to more mature audiences anyway. I doubt anyone who has yet to write an English term paper would be able to hold their attention on the screen… or is that what the sex scenes were for?

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