Stranger Than Fiction is, appropriately, a strange film. It isn’t the type of film that Will Farrell typically stars in. He’s mostly known for thoughtless comedies, which have the sole purpose of making you laugh, and laugh often. This film departs from that desire. It’s a thoughtful film, and while it does have humor, it’s deeper down than one would come to expect. There isn’t constant laughter, but there are times where you will appreciate what humor the film does have to offer. There are well-developed characters, and they are ones that you will care about by the end.
Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS agent. He’s had the same daily routine for 12 years, as we are told by a narrator (Emma Thompson). On a Wednesday, things begin to change. Crick starts hearing the narrator describe what is happening in his life. While waiting at the street corner, the narrator tells him that his death is going to occur shortly. This prediction guides him throughout the rest of the film. He spends his time attempting to not only find out who this narrator is but also trying to stop this seemingly inevitable death.
Will Ferrell is an actor I rarely like. I think it’s because his typical movies don’t appeal to me. Their humor isn’t something that I find funny, and that’s the only type of role I’ve seen Ferrell in before watching this film. Thankfully, I found out that he can be a pretty good dramatic actor as well. The switch from comedian to a dramatic actor is something that Jim Carrey did well in The Truman Show, and it is something that Ferrell does well here.
He never overshadows the side characters despite this seemingly new-found talent. Playing Ferrell’s love interest is Maggie Gyllenhaal, a heavily tattooed baker. She is being audited by Crick, but the two quickly find chemistry together. Also showing up is Dustin Hoffman, playing a college professor. Crick goes to him in an attempt to find out what the narrator is doing inside his head. Hoffman overshadows Ferrell in these scenes, and it definitely would have been nice to see more of his character.
The way the story is told manages to make you care about Harold Crick. Not all that much happens in the first 30 or so minutes, but this allows for enough character development to carry the rest of the film. We also get to see Crick develop throughout the film, and he gets to improve his life for the worst, even though the narrator predicted his downfall.
Stranger Than Fiction is funny, but not in the typical over-the-top way that Will Ferrell movies usually are.
This leads to an interesting question, one that Hoffman’s character actually brings up within the film. He wonders whether or not Crick’s story is a tragedy or a comedy. This is true about the film as a whole, not just the story within it. There are certainly some humorous parts, but that is also true in older tragedies. There was almost always comic relief at certain parts, so that the audience wouldn’t get too depressed while watching it. It makes me wonder if Stranger Than Fiction is actually a comedy or not.
While it does have parts which will make you laugh, it also has truly sad parts. Not enough to make you shed a tear for the characters, but there are times of genuine sadness. Since director Marc Forster does such a good job of building up his characters, you care about their triumphs and failures. This is especially true in the ending; I didn’t like it. There is a large build up to it, and then it almost felt like they decided to chicken out. It ultimately works fine, but seeing a typical Hollywood-style ending wasn’t what I wanted.
There isn’t much wrong with Stranger Than Fiction. The ending was just okay, and some of the characters don’t seem to matter much. There are two characters, a child and a woman, who are seen only in glimpses throughout the film. They appear at the film’s conclusion, with seemingly no reason. They aren’t given names, and their characters had no purpose, other than to make you remember a couple of scenes earlier. They could have easily been omitted, saving the film a couple of minutes of running time in the process. The film does run on a bit too long, with a couple other scenes feeling like they could have been cut to save some time, and it might have made the film a bit better if they had been.
Stranger Than Fiction is funny, but not in the typical over-the-top way that Will Ferrell movies usually are. The situations aren’t all that funny, but the dialogue exchanged between the characters is. Characters are well-developed, and you end up caring about them all. While the ending wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, the story all-around was solid and was told in an entertaining way. This is the film that shows Will Ferrell’s ability to act in something other than a silly comedy.
Conclusion: Stranger Than Fiction is a smart and funny comedy that’s better than most of Will Ferrell’s filmography.
Recommendation: Stranger Than Fiction is worth watching even if you dislike typical Will Ferrell comedies.