Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Facts about Fiction

Since watching Stranger than Fiction (2006) this past Saturday, I've come to realize just how easy it is to review a film you either love or hate.

The hardest reviews to write are ones like this: films you enjoyed, but not as much as you'd hoped. Films that lure in the literary types with interesting plot twists, only to have a few kinks in the intellectual follow-through.

I mean, I liked this film. I really did. But where as the minds behind Adaptation (2002) — director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman — genuinely twisted my brain right in with that film's cute-but-complex plot, Stranger than Fiction requires a sort of suspension of disbelief that's a bit more difficult to swallow (I compare the two here because both films position "writing" at their core).

And, no, I did not expect to find the plot "realistic," per se. I had just hoped for a little more assistance along the trail to make believe.

But that's not to say this film isn't compelling. Quite the contrary: Stranger is about an IRS agent named Harold Crick (well-played by Will Ferrell in his least comedic role to date) who lives his day-to-day as so many folks do: he's caught in a routine that serves only to propel him further into a sort of quiet loneliness. Topsy turvy enters into his world, however, by way of a woman's voice.

He hears this voice from time to time throughout the day, and quickly realizes it's talking about him: the voice beautifully narrates his very movements; his thoughts; his hopes. Needless to say, this disturbs Crick... particularly when the voice forecasts his "imminent demise."

Crick makes it his purpose, then, to seek out the narrator in an attempt to spare his life from this omniscient thrashing.

I was amazed by how well Crick handled this voice, all things considered. He never seems to lose faith in himself, even after a psychologist offers up the expected "schizophrenia" diagnosis. In this respect, the film explores notions of comedy, tragedy, character and various other literary devices.

And for that, I enjoyed the film. I thought Ferrell was great, as were the other "big" names: Emma Thompson (the voice in his head), Queen Latifah (the voice's assistant), Dustin Hoffman (literary critic) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (renegade baker/tax evader), etc.

But no matter how much I want to give Stranger a smashing review, I keep coming back to this: something was missing. It was cute, with meaningful undertones. And I was initially drawn in with the allusion to literary theory, and it's exploration of comedy, tragedy and story-telling.

But I think that may very well be where it falters. It lacked the mind-bending that made Adaptation such a joy to watch, as well as the framework that made the town of Seahaven so believable in Jim Carrey's The Truman Show (1998).

You see what I mean? I have no problems suspending disbelief when there's no hint of reality; but when you intermingle the two, you've got to give the audience more foundation.

Previews for this film had me hoping I'd walk away with an altogether new apprecation for Ferrell, as I did for Carrey after Truman.

And though I wasn't salivating for Stranger than Fiction as I did for The Truman Show or even Adaptation, I've got to admit that I was a fan of Ferrell's work long before this film (I can't say the same for Carrey or Nicholas Cage — the star of Adaptation).

But will Stranger function as a transitional role for Ferrell? Now that he's done a "more serious" comedy — in comparion to the uproarious humor that marks Anchorman — does that mean we'll soon see him in grab-your-kleenex dramas?

I certainly think he's capable. But, man, if he hasn't found a niche...


1 comment:

Saurabh said...

You are being tagged :-)