wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)
Stranger Than Fiction is a must watch for English Literature students. To begin with, it’s a wonderfully subtle attempt to discuss and play around the act of narration, writing and in fact, Being. How what we think as writers, or even as human beings, could be someone’s life out there or we could be living out someone’s mere thought. Add this to an interestingly charming amalgamation of characters and relationships and you’ll get Stranger Than Fiction.Read more
I’ve often wondered whether writers know of the power they are bestowed with. As a bearer of fiction, you could make your characters dance around naked and pass it off as literary. It was fascinating to me, and I always wanted to write a book where I, the presumed author, would have a live conversation with my characters, talking to them about how they feel being part of the book. You know, almost like a really cool making of. Although, I guess Marc Forster beat me to it with Stranger Than Fiction.
Stranger Than Fiction is one of those subtle movies that blow you away and you don’t even realize it. It’s revolves around Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), a meticulous auditor who leads a predictably disciplined life. Crick’s wrist watch is his life; timing every second of his day. The film grips you right in the beginning when, coupled with quirky graphics, we learn of how his head works. Numbers, road maps and calculations surround him as he plays out his life for us. With no background music to support his introduction, it’s one of the finest beginnings to a film you would witness.
You’re then brought into the movie with a calm narration, only to realize that it’s a narration Crick can hear. His life turns upside down when he can hear a woman narrate his life for him (not to predict but almost as it happens to him). He consults a psychiatrist (Linda Hunt) who then refers him to a Literature professor, Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), to be able to help him with the text of the narration.
To me, this entire sub-plot of the film is one of the most deductive interpretations of the consumption of literature (I’m including Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation into this too). Hoffman deconstructs the text to the core – trying to analyze it’s genre by studying its archetypes; whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy (much like the film for us viewers – we are amused at the premise and tragically trying to ignore the existentialist question the film poses.)
Interspersed with this is the story of Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a writer who doesn’t know how to put an end to her new novel. She’s sent an assistant to help her keep deadlines (Queen Latifah, whose so talented but extremely wasted and unnecessary in the film) – when she realizes, through the course of the film, the power of her story as she meets Harold.
Harold also meets Ana Pascal, a motor-mouth, tattooed Bakery owner who hates his kind – “taxmen”. They develop an endearing relationship that starts with conflict and hate and moves onto a path of discovery. The growth of his relationship with Ana and his periodical meetings with Professor Hilbert brings the film together in a savory, indulgent manner. You are barely over this phenomenally understated premise – when you’re provided with the backdrop of edgy, charming characters and twisted relationships. Together they make Stranger Than Fiction an alluring film.
The Blu-Ray edition of Stranger Than Fiction is packed with extras. The first and the most entertaining one is an audio commentary of Hoffman, Forster and Will Ferrell– it’s funny and goofy and provides a welcome breather to the stimulating movie. This attitude is present through the 6 featurettes that talk about the casting and making of the film. The disk also has 9 deleted scenes, mostly of Crick’s visits to the therapist. For die-hard fans of the movie (which I have now become after writing about it), it’s a DVD you must possess.
Stranger Than Fiction is the kind of film that makes you realize how brilliantly crafted it is only as an afterthought. The kind that will make you go, “Wait a minute...” and you’ll rethink the film in your head. It’s in that process that you’ll want to butt into Crick’s narration, help him out, make your own deductions about the text, and suggest possible endings to Eiffel’s book. Most importantly, when you are slapped with the recurring existentialist question that this film is posing, you will not want to answer it but you’ll smile because the film hasn’t attempted to either.
This review is by guest reviewer Swetha Ramakrishnan. Swetha Ramakrishnan is currently living and working in Mumbai. She's a self-confessed film enthusiast and can most likely be found talking to anyone and everyone about popular cinema and her love for SRK. Swetha Ramakrishnan also blogs at http://swetharamakrishnan.blogspot.com/.
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