Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stranger than Fiction: Grade A


Stranger than Fiction (2006)

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah. Director Mark Forster

Will Ferrell plays a dramatic-comedy role straight, not his usual manic slapstick, and he does a good job. He is an Asperger’s type idiot-savant IRS inspector with comorbid personality disorders (obsessive-compulsive, schizotypic, etc.), but he is represented in the move as more or less “normal.” The details of his humdrum life are narrated in a voice-over by Emma Thompson. One day he starts to hear that narration himself. Then we learn that the narration is being done by an author (Thompson) who is writing a book in which he is the main character. Ferrell goes to a scene-stealing psychiatrist played by the venerable Linda Hunt who diagnoses him as schizophrenic. In the course of investigating a tax-evading baker (Gyllenhal), who inexplicably “mothers” him with milk and cookies, he falls in love. Literary professor Dustin Hoffman, who has the biggest faculty office in the history of academia, advises him that author Thompson always kills her main character at the end of her books. Ferrell finds and confronts Thompson to plead for his life. Thompson is predictably excellent, but her character is too nutty to be believable. There is a second layer of humor and irony for appreciators of literature, as Thompson’s book, called the greatest literary advance of the 20th century, is obvious schlock. The ending is unsatisfying, both for the fictional book and for the movie, as if the screenwriter could not think of how to extricate himself. For some reason the director is obsessed with orality, showing lots of spitting, eating, drinking, vomiting, smoking, and teeth-brushing – just about everything you can do with a mouth. It makes no sense and adds nothing. Gyllenhal is magnetic throughout. She has charisma, but we don’t really believe her character would fall for Ferrell’s. Nevertheless, this is a genuinely funny light comedy, well worth seeing.

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