Film critic Robert W. Butler, who I normally like quite a bit, did me a real disservice by comparing Stranger than Fiction to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and then making the rather audacious statement that the former is better than the latter.
First of all, though STF is a very charming film in its own right, it's certainly no Eternal Sunshine. And to its credit, despite some similarities in structure, I don't really think it was trying to be.
Instead of trying to be a full-blown mind-bender, it's really a study of structure in literature, and as such it succeeds in tearing through the cliches of the novel form even as it revels in them.
The story centers on Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an IRS auditor who may or may not also be the subject of a novel by Kay Eiffel (a very welcome Emma Thompson). To tell anything more would be a crime I won't commit.
Along with the clever structure, what makes this all work so well are the performances, particularly from two men I don't always like to see on screen.
First, Will Ferrell. I had no idea that, if he simply toned it down a few notches, he could retain all his comic timing and carry a movie squarely on his shoulders. He's on screen at least 70 percent of the time, and for once I never got tired of seeing him. And second, Dustin Hoffman, who, like Al Pacino, has often been coasting through his latter career by doing an awful lot of shouting. Here he's pleasantly subdued and insightful as the literature professor who helps Harold through his predicament.
I expected the ladies to have a bigger part in this one, but among them Emma Thompson makes the most of her limited screen time as the author who may be Harold's narrator. She's a perfect portrait of obsessive-compulsiveness, and I enjoyed every minute she got on screen. As for Maggie Gyllenhaal, she really doesn't have much to do but look pretty (which she's awfully good at), but there's still something extremely pleasing in watching her talk about cookies.
And the ending of this one, which you won't hear about from me, fits perfectly within its literary framework. I have to admit that I don't read nearly as many books as I used to, and this very smart and funny flick has me thinking I should change that immediately.
Or, maybe tomorrow, because now I have to see if my mighty Maryland Terrapins can hold on for the second half and defeat Miami. Fear the turtle.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Posted by Reel Fanatic at 4:37 PM