Length: 113 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Languages: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, French
Stranger Than Fiction is a delightful and entirely original film which uses an incredibly strong cast to great effect. I was originally going to call it a fantasy-comedy, but then I remembered that Roger Ebert used a better word to describe this movie – it is a fable.
Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, an IRS auditor whose world is one of precision and predictability but totally lacking in adventure or romance. Harold gets up at the same time every day, counts every stroke as he brushes his teeth, never takes a day off and rarely takes a vacation. One morning, as he is brushing his teeth, Harold hears a woman’s voice. The voice is not talking to him, but it is talking about him. It is describing what he is doing, thinking and saying. The voice is not even aware that Harold can hear it.
In the meantime, Harold’s life begins to change when he is assigned to conduct a tax audit of a baker, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Although he is socially inept, Harold is completely smitten with Ana and much of the humor in the film is found in the scenes where Harold awkwardly tries to develop a relationship with her.
The voice which Harold hears comes and goes, but it begins to affect his work. He is called into Human Resources, where he has a bizarre counseling session with an IRS psychologist, Dr. Cayly (Tom Hulce). Harold then seeks out the help of a psychiatrist, Dr. Mittag-Leffler (Linda Hunt), but it turns out that the only person who can do anything for him is a professor of literature, Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). Professor Hilbert realizes that Harold is hearing the words of an author and that Harold is the protagonist in a novel which the author is writing. The problem is that the author, Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), ends all of her books the same way – her protagonist always dies. Harold eventually has to decide which is more important – his life, or a work of literature which will last for the ages.
Anyone looking for a “typical” Will Ferrell movie isn’t going to find it here. Stranger Than Fiction is no Anchorman or Talladega Nights. Indeed, Ferrell demonstrates that he could follow in the footsteps of Bill Murray and Steve Martin, easily moving between comedic roles and more dramatic ones. Maggie Gyllenhall is delightful and sexy as Ana, Emma Thompson is perfectly cast as the author, and Dustin Hoffman is, well, Dustin Hoffman. Queen Latifah is very effective in a restrained role as the author’s assistant. Also featured is Tony Hale (Arrested Development) as Harold’s co-worker and only friend.
Stranger Than Fiction is not really a laugh-out-loud comedy. It is funny at times, but it is also romantic and literary and tragic. The characters are well-developed and you really care about what happens to them. I found it to be a very enjoyable way to spend an evening.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Stranger Than Fiction is first-rate. The image is sharp throughout, colors and flesh tones appear to be accurate, and the picture if free of grain. My only complaint is that the supplementary materials are not enhanced for widescreen.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack sounds great. The music of Spoon is prominent throughout the film, including several instrumentals by band leader Britt Daniel. Also featured are some 70’s punk rock tunes, and the filmmakers even manage to work in “La Petite Fille De Mer” by Vangelis. The dialogue is crisp and always intelligible. There is one “wrecking ball” scene which made it sound like my house was being demolished. The film was shown in DTS is some theaters, but there is no DTS soundtrack on the DVD.
The supplementary materials include a half-dozen featurettes about the making of the film, including information about how the casting was done. Comments from the cast members are very interesting. Dustin Hoffman talks about how impressed he was by Will Ferrell. It appears that nearly all of the actors signed on virtually as soon as they read the script. The featurettes are informative and add to the enjoyment of the feature.
There are also two extras identified as expanded/deleted scenes, but that is slightly misleading. In the film there is a scene in Professor Hilbert’s office. On the television in the background is a C-Span-like book show in which an author is being interviewed. The “interview” is not a real interview, but is a scene within a scene. The interviewer is played by Kristin Chenoweth. The expanded/deleted scenes are actually two entire faux interviews which were filmed for the movie, and they are very amusing. Chenoweth plays her part as a clueless pretty face who hasn’t even read the books which were written by the authors she is interviewing.
Scene selection is available from the main menu. The DVD also includes trailers for a number of other Sony/Columbia releases, including Casino Royale.
The Final Analysis
I was thoroughly entertained by Stranger Than Fiction. The characters are interesting, the actors are first-rate, and I even learned a little bit about literary theory and how books are written. If this sort of film appeals to you, I am sure that you will not be disappointed.
Equipment used for this review:
Cambridge Audio DVD-89 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: February 27, 2007