The International Writers
Dir. Marc Foster
Starring: Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin
Hoffman and Queen Latifah.
Crick is a man you can set your wristwatch by. Calculating footsteps
or counting toothbrush-strokes, Crick is an IRS agent of unequivocal
consistency. In Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell gives
us his version of the Everyday Man Lost In An Unrelenting Sea
Of Banality a la Jim Carey in The Truman Show or even Kevin
Spacey in American Beauty.
Through the sudden omniscient narration Crick hears in his head, director
Marc Foster (Finding Neverland) and newcomer screenplay and scriptwriter
Zach Helm, ask us to consider the significance of art and the degree of
control we have in our own lives.
Crick finds his absorption in the meticulous shattered by this narration.
Seeking help from busy bare-footed, coffee-guzzling, volunteer life-guarding
Literary Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), Crick explains that
the voice he is hearing isnt telling him to do anything. Its
telling me what Ive already done: accurately, and with a better
vocabulary. The two of them narrow the narration down to New York
based writer Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson); notorious for killing off her
heroes. They attempt to find her and subsequently prevent Cricks
Along the way, the tattooed tax-dodging baker of sweet goods, Ana Pascal,
romances Crick. In a film confused in both its message and genre, Maggie
Gyllenhaals performance is a shining beacon. An unexpectedly touching
scene where Pascal bakes cookies for Crick is damaged by Helms insipid
script, forcing the words I wanted to save the world with cookies
out of Gyllenhaals otherwise captivating mouth.
It is unfair to blame the ambiguous message of this film on the actors,
as there were brilliant performances all round. Emma Thompsons tortured
author, in all her pale chain-smoking writers-block glory, was marvellously
jittery and believable. And Ferrells Harold Crick was exactly the
right degree of energetic, yet restrained.
I wanted so much to like this film. The existential anxiety, the weary
writer, the relationship between fiction and reality, the flawed characters
were all greatly appealing. However, Stranger Than Fictions
downfall is in its clumsy portrayal of its main message. If Forster was
attempting to show us the sanctity and importance of art within our everyday
lives, then he missed the mark entirely with Eiffells droll narrative
and tedious imagery. Her story about Crick is neither interesting nor
eventful until he starts rebelling against her path for him, and would
make an exceedingly dull read. If this was Forsters attempt at encouraging
people to take interest in the literature around them, shown also through
Professor Hilberts extensive book collection, then surely he would
have used this thrilling concept to more economy and made Eiffel construct
an exciting and eventful path for Crick to follow. Forsters reliance
on the viewer to trust him, this will get interesting, wears
thin very quickly, and the otherwise fascinating concept of this film
Helm certainly has a grasp of the slow rhythms and details of everyday
speech. However his over explanatory dialogue and the lines I
need help. You look tired, you need a rest finally
killed me off, let alone Harold Crick. At this point I neither cared nor
wanted to care about how Crick was killed off, and punctuated my point
to the audience by getting up and leaving the cinema.
This film is carried by its fine performances of irresistible characters,
but leave your desire for a philosophical plot to make sense, behind.
Marc Forster with his half-arsed attempt certainly did.
© Rosie Wheatcroft Jan 2007
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