Sunday, March 04, 2007

Movie Log: Stranger Than Fiction

Hey! I'm almost on time watching a movie! The Wife and I put Stranger Than Fiction on top of our Netflix queue in hopes that we'd get it on the day of release, and we actually did. Then we saw it the night we got it -- the day after it came out on video -- which is lightning-fast for us. (By comparison, we got The Prestige almost two weeks ago and still haven't seen it.)

I suppose I should lead off with the inevitable complaints; this movie touches part of the world I know, which means I can tell what it got completely wrong. (My impression is that most movies get most things in the real world wrong, but only the people who know enough about that particular thing can tell.) Emma Thompson plays a novelist (eight novels, all "tragedies," the most recent a decade ago), and Queen Latifa is the "assistant" her publishers hired to help Thompson finish her current book. (I can't begin to explain how ridiculous this is; if anyone came to cajole Thompson about the book, unlikely as that would be after a decade, it would be her editor or agent.) More subtly, the book she's supposedly writing has about as much plot as a post-modern short story; perhaps she's meant to be a Nicholson Baker-esque miniaturist, but that doesn't fit with the way she's described. Neither of those things are really important to the main plot, though, so I was able to ignore them.

I'm not sure I've seen a movie Will Farrell's done before this; he seems to usually specialize in really dumb comedies, which generally look more dumb than funny to me. But he's wonderful in this movie (as is everyone else), playing an IRS auditor named Harold Crick (the fact that I can remember his character's name, two days later, is a good sign). He's exactly the stereotype of a buttoned-down numbers guy, as Thompson's novelist (Kaye Eiffel) explains in a great voice-over.

The Thompson narration sets a wonderful tone, and it imparts the movie a great feeling of forward motion and necessity, even if (looking back afterward) it turns out that there actually isn't a whole lot of plot to Stranger Than Fiction, after all. I enjoyed it immensely, and found all of the parts done very well; I practically fell in love myself with Maggie Gyllenaal as Farrell's love interest (which is what's supposed to happen with a romantic comedy), and Dustin Hoffman's literature professor is a joy in his every scene. (People involved in the literary world will particularly love the scene where Hoffman asks Farrell a series of rapid-fire questions to determine what genre of story Farrell is in.)

The overall plot is pretty simple to describe: Harold Crick starts hearing Kaye Eiffel's narration of his life, including the foreshadowing of his own death ("little did he know..."), which leads to a lot of changes in his life, including a new love and, mostly, an attempt to avoid that death. It doesn't spend too much time on the "everybody thinks he's crazy" aspect, which is good -- we get one good scene each with Tom Hulce and Linda Hunt as psychiatrists, but that's all we need.

All in all, except for my nagging thought about the meta-plot (the plot of Eiffel's novel as she saw it, without Harold being aware of his own fate and part in her book) being awfully thin and undramatic, this was an excellent movie.

In fact, I was sorry that I'd already sent in my Hugo ballot an hour before I watched this movie; I would have added it if I could have.

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