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Stranger Than Fiction

Released 2006. Director: Marc Foster

IF SOMEONE WERE TO WRITE A STORY WITH YOU AS THE CENTRAL CHARACTER, what would it be like? Stranger Than Fiction explores this curious idea in a peculiar, thoughtful and rather delightful way.

Harold Crick is a quiet man who lives a sedate, routine life. He works for the tax office and is surrounded by endless calculations and infinite numbers. His favourite word is integer and he has a compulsion to count everything, such as footsteps and brushstrokes when he brushes his teeth. Then suddenly, he hears a voice narrating his every move as it happens, telling his life story “with a better vocabulary”.

Inventive and charmingly beguiling, Stranger Than Fiction is very "Charlie-Kaufmanesque", with bits of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, hints of Adaptation, traces of Being John Malkovich, and lots of brain-squeezing, mind-warping turns in the plot.

When Harold discovers that he is actually a character in a book in progress, the real world and the fictional world coincide. Harold is anxious to find the mysterious author before time runs out, for he has heard the voice going on about his “impending death”. As Harold tries to figure out if his own story is a comedy or tragedy, the movie itself balances beautifully between the two. When Harold finally locates and confronts the author, content and form become one.

This delightful movie makes you think about issues like fate, control, literature, the meaning of life, and cookies. The cast is fabulous. I never thought a Will Ferrell movie would end up on any year's Top-Ten list. This time he’s broken out of his comedian routine in a sweet, drab and dour performance in the nicest way. Maggie Gyllenhaal is sassy in a grubby way as a baker whose tax file Harold is auditing. Emma Thompson the author has a wickedly funny moment in a hospital asking to see dying people in the name of research. Then there's Dustin Hoffman as a literature professor who believes in Harold’s predicament; and a short scene with Linda Hunt, who thinks the man suffers from schizophrenia.

Stranger Than Fiction has something interesting to say about several things, like letting go, saving lives, compromising, buying a guitar and falling in love. One of the most striking thoughts is the allusion to the power writers have, and the choices they face if they know the direct impact of what their writing can have on people, or even just one person.

“I may already be dead, just not typed.”

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