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STRANGER THAN FICTION

SYNOPSIS:
Highly strung novelist Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is nearing completion on her latest, and potentially finest, book. But figuring out how to kill off her main character Harold Crick (as is her wont), has given her writer's block. Hence her publishers sending Penny (Queen Latifah) to ensure she gets it done. Little does Karen know that a real Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) exists in the real world, a meticulous and lonely number crunching IRS auditor, who is suddenly aware of the words she is writing about his life - and impending death. Having just met the fascinating and fiery Ana (Maggie Gyllenhall), he is desperate to find a way to change Karen's (and his own) ending and eventually consults literature professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) looking for answers to the bizarre mystery.

Review by Louise Keller:
Destiny, chance and a wristwatch all play a part in Stranger Than Fiction, a fascinating tale in which reality and fiction become confused. There are two realities in director Mark Forster's complex film which meander in parallel until they finally find their way to being compatible. Ironically, the characters in the film's reality are far stranger than Will Ferrell's fictional tax assessor Harold Crick, who lives his mundane and ordered life by rote.

There's Emma Thompson's chainsmoking novelist who imagines death around every corner, Maggie Gyllenhaal's heavily tattooed cookie maker who wants to make the world a better place, Queen Latifah's conservative literary assistant on a mission, and Dustin Hoffman's eccentric literary theorist who leads Harold on a curious adventure of self discovery. The journey is filled with surprising moments, none the least being a convincingly understated performance by Ferrell as the bewildered fictional character whose life has escalated out of his control.

When Harold first hears his thoughts and actions as if narrated by a woman's voice, he thinks is being followed or spied upon. How could someone be counting how many times he brushes his teeth, or what he is thinking when he meets Gyllenhaal's Ana in the chaotic bakery, where he is to conduct a tax audit? It is Linda Hunt's pragmatic psychiatrist Dr. Mittag-Leffler, who gives him the idea to find an expert on all things literary. Hoffman's Professor Jules Hilbert is a wonderful creation, not dissimilar to his existential detective of I Love Huckabees: paradoxical, unconventional and seriously funny. The course that Harold travels to discover to which area of literature he does not belong and whether he is part of a comedy or a tragedy, is both a humorous and a poignant one.

It's clever and witty in a offbeat kind of way, and despite being pushed and pulled into curiously bizarre situations, the multi-dimensional characters always remain real. Writer's block has never been so entertaining.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The magic of cinema enables filmmakers to tell us stories that can be less about hard and fast reality and more about the nature of humanity. Zach Helm's debut screenplay in the hands of Marc Forster's inventive and capable hands gives us just such a work, a film that plays with reality and fiction as interchangeable entities, while taking us on an engaging, sometimes gripping tale. At the centre of it are two key figures: one is a character in a novel who has a real life version at the tax department (Will Ferrell), and the other is his creator, the author (Emma Thompson).

Ferrell is brilliantly muted, underplaying and subtle, in a characterisation that's immensely difficult to capture, yet he does it admirably. Thompson, whose voice is heard well before we meet her, delivers a wonderfully eccentric writer who comes face to face with her life threatening power, and Maggie Gyllenhall is a spectacular mix of anarchy and sweetness as a baker who finds Harold wondering into her bakery and her life one of life's unplanned (unwritten?) happy accidents.

The premise that Harold can hear the words Karen is writing is the film's magic trick - and it's so well handled that we buy every minute of it. The dramatic tension is matched by a real character arc, as Harold becomes aware of his literary fate. From his calculated, measured life, Harold will be propelled towards the messy, unmathematical but irresistible elements of life, including love. In that respect, and that respect alone, Stranger Than Fiction is a romantic comedy, but along the way it is also a fun filled character study, a literary playground (primarily for Dustin Hoffman's wonderfully elaborate creation, the sartorial but occasionally barefooted professor of literature who does lifeguard duty in his spare time) and a hugely entertaining work where of course the facts of life are stranger than fiction, even though the whole thing is entirely fictional.

The message is perhaps unnecessarily narrated to us at the end, but it's a good message and it's a terrific film.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

STRANGER THAN FICTION (M)
(US, 2006)

CAST: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah

PRODUCER: Lindsay Doran,

DIRECTOR: Marc Forster

SCRIPT: Zach Helm

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roberto Schaeffer

EDITOR: Matt Chesse

MUSIC: Britt Daniel, Brian Reitzell

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kevin Thompson

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 1, 2007







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