I wish that Emma Thompson were the sardonic narrator of my own life.
When it comes to what I’m passionate about, movies and books are pretty much tied for first place. If I had my way, I’d spend my days doing nothing but alternating between watching endless movies and reading countless books. While also consuming copious amounts of wine and pizza of course. In fact, I was tempted to start a blog titled “Luke’s Library” but Lord knows I’m not a fast enough reader to read enough books for two weekly reviews. So when I come across a movie that brilliantly ties the world of books into its plot, that movie tends to stick with me. Stranger than Fiction (2006) is a lovely and life-affirming little movie that is an absolute must-see for anyone who is a fan of books.
Stranger than Fiction follows Harold Crick, a bored IRS agent who lives the same mundane routine every day. One day he begins to hear a disembodied voice narrating his life as it happens, just as though he were the main character in a novel. When he hears the voice casually predict that he will soon die, Harold desperately searches for a way to prevent his untimely demise.
The book angle is only part of why I love this movie so much. Besides a stellar cast that features a pair of fabulous actresses (oh, we’ll talk about them), Stranger than Fiction is a semi-independent movie that’s all about seizing the day and breaking up the monotony of life. It’s a theme that really speaks to me and is why I love a movie like Yes Man (2008). By the way, check out my review for that movie, here. It may sound a tad trite but I think that we often forget that there’s so much more to life than just waking up, going to work, coming home, and repeating. Each of our lives have the capability to be full of passion, comfort, love, adventure, and excitement, things we can find in our everyday lives if we have the motivation to pursue them. Movies like Yes Man and Stranger than Fiction remind audiences that life’s what you make it (yes, that was a Hannah Montana reference) and I believe it’s that simple, heartwarming sentiment that makes them such endearing movies. Like the best books, when you begin to peer beneath the surface of Stranger than Fiction and come to terms with the deeper themes it’s exploring, it makes the whole thing even more enjoyable than it already is. This is a movie that upon each rewatch, you’ll learn something new. You’ll breathe in deeply, close your eyes, exhale, and go, “yeah, there are a lot of great things about life.”
Written by Zach Helm, Stranger than Fiction is the only movie of note penned by the screenwriter. I’m always stunned when I come across a movie that is phenomenally written and it turns out the screenwriter never really did anything else. It happens more often than you think. Like with Bert V. Royal and Easy A (2010)! By the way, check out my review for that movie, here. Helm crafts a script that flows seamlessly, wonderfully balancing a hilariously dark narration with tender scenes of romance and introspection. This movie had me laughing at the absurdity of hearing someone narrate every mundane activity of Harold’s daily routine as well as had me contemplating my own dwindling sense of mortality. Helm’s script somehow manages to be mellow and full of drama at the same time, making sure that Stranger than Fiction keeps you on your toes.
Director Marc Forster also deserves a good share of credit when it comes to what makes this movie such a unique delight. The way he uses graphics onscreen to help demonstrate how much thought Harold puts into simple tasks is so sleek and stylish, a cool choice that helps Stranger than Fiction stand out from the crowd. Overall the way this movie is filmed and the tone it establishes makes me think that it would be the type of movie that would be studied in film school. Or at the very least, one that film students would have strong opinions about. Unsurprisingly, watching Stranger than Fiction feels a lot like settling in and reading a genre-spanning book that’s impossible to put down.
Almost every comedic actor has their one serious movie where they step outside of their comfort zone and surprise us all with their dramatic acting chops. Stranger than Fiction is Will Ferrell’s and oh wow, is he great. As Harold, Ferrell stows away his usual goofiness and adopts a dry, deadpan tone that is the perfect choice to play the bored IRS agent. Ferrell delivers a restrained yet still mesmerizing performance, one unlike anything he had done before. He endows Harold with realism and relatability, making him a character that you’re able to see even a small glimpse of yourself in. A few years ago I may have listed one of his frat-boy comedies as my favourite Ferrell movie but now it’s undeniably Stranger than Fiction. Ferrell brings Harold to life (in more ways than one), adding a layer of subdued charm to this intimate, clever movie.
As novelist Karen Eiffel, Emma Thompson plays the role with such intrigue and depth, constantly proving herself to be helplessly out of touch with reality. Yet, she’s so in touch with the story she’s writing that the side plot of her trying to finish the ending could almost be its own movie. Thompson really sells the character and I truly believe her as an eccentric author suffering from the worst case of writer’s block I’ve ever seen. Just like Ferrell flipping the script and showing off his more serious side, this is a new side to Thompson for me. I’m used to her light, comedic roles, so her performance in Stranger than Fiction is always a welcome surprise for me. God, she’s fabulous. And speaking of fabulous surprises, Queen Latifah is remarkable as Karen’s no-nonsense assistant, Penny Escher. Once again, I know Latifah from her effervescent, bubbly roles, so to watch her play someone so cool, calm, and collected is a fun change of pace to see. The role shows how versatile Latifah is as an actress and how badly we need to see her in more movies. Latifah is one of those performers who is impossible not to love like, Dolly Parton or ABBA. They radiate fun and light and make every project they’re apart of inherently better.
If you haven’t seen Stranger than Fiction since it came out, head to Netflix tonight and revisit it. It’s an uplifting little charmer that is as odd as it is powerful. Trust me, you’re going to watch this movie and then want to go out and learn to play the guitar, eat tons of delicious baked goods, catch up with old friends, or at the very least, curl up with a good book.
Have you seen Stranger than Fiction?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!