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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Comedy or Tragedy?
by Betty Jo Tucker

Filled with witty dialogue and intriguing characters, Stranger than Fiction presents a creative story that not only entertains us but makes us think about our own mortality and what’s important in life. 

Mark Twain once pointed out, “It’s no wonder truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Happily, this fictional film makes sense out of a whimsical situation that could have been played strictly for laughs but ends up being an inspirational treat instead. It’s about an author, portrayed by Emma Thompson (Love Actually), who’s facing a bad case of writer’s block. She wants to kill off one of her characters but can’t figure out how to do it. In fact, she’s become an emotional wreck while pondering over the way to end her new book.

Will Ferrell (Elf) plays Harold Crick, the character in question, but the catch is -- he’s a real person who starts hearing the author narrate details about his life. When Harold discovers that the writer is planning his imminent death, he tries to prevent this from happening.

After telling one of his co-workers about the voice he hears in his head, Harold is forced into talking unsuccessfully with a way-out-of-his-depth human resources counselor. When that doesn’t work he seeks advice from a competent but befuddled psychiatrist (Linda Hunt) and then from a distinguished Professor of Literature (Dustin Hoffman), who asks him a series of amusing questions designed to find out if Harold’s life is a comedy or a tragedy. In the meantime, Harold --- an IRS agent -- falls hard for a spunky baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a woman he’s auditing for unpaid taxes.

Ferrell may not be one of your favorite actors, but this is not the outrageous comic from SNL you’re used to seeing in movies like Talledega Nights. He’s simply wonderful in this different type of role. Ferrell portrays the lonely, uptight IRS man here with such poignancy and sincerity that it’s easy to hope something will happen to change Harold Crick’s fate.

The rest of the cast members also deliver terrific performances. Thompson isn’t afraid to let all her nerve ends show as the obsessed writer coming to grips with the dilemma of a deadline and a moral responsibility. In the small role of Thompson’s assistant, Queen Latifah (Beauty Shop) complements the author’s chain-smoking angst with a sense of strength only she can project so well on screen.  Hoffman (Meet the Fockers) lends just the right amount of arrogance and authority to his portrayal of the literary professor, and Gyllenhaal (World Trade Center) is absolutely perfect as the free-spirited woman who helps Harold Crick find some joy in his life.

Directed by Marc Forster with the same magical touch he brought to Finding NeverlandStranger than Fiction won me over completely. However, I believe the best thing about this exceptional film is the writing. Zach Helm, a relative newcomer, has created an impressive script which should be honored come Oscar time. Is the story a comedy or a tragedy? It really doesn’t matter. What does matter, though, is that Stranger than Fiction turns out to be a very special movie indeed. Don’t miss this one.        

(Released by Sony Pictures Entertainment and rated “PG-13” for disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity.)

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