2006 - United States - 113 minutes
Writer - Zach Helm
Director - Marc Forster
Internet Movie Database User Rating - 7.8/10 - Link to IMDB
Roger Ebert's Rating - 3.5 of 4 Stars - Link to Ebert's Review
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars

I have my niece, Emily, to thank for my enjoyment of this film. I am not a fan of Will Ferrell. The previews I saw of this film on television made it look as though it was another of his comedies in the Will Ferrell style, so I had dismissed it and never considered seeing it. At a dinner, my niece told me that she and her husband had greatly enjoyed the film and assured me that it was not a typical Will Ferrell vehicle. Boy was she right! This is an excellent movie, and it has caused me to look at Ferrell in an entirely different way.

It is the story of Harold Crick, a man stuck in the rut of all ruts as far as his life is concerned. He is an IRS agent who quietly goes through each day according to a regular schedule and never deviates from that schedule. One day he hears a voice in his head that is narrating his entire life. He, at first, dismisses the phenomenon, but when it starts to exactly describe events, he becomes concerned and seeks professional help.

Supporting Ferrell's excellent, understated performance is a slew of superior supporting actors.

An unrecognizable rotund and bearded Tom Hulce is the company shrink who is Harold's first stop. Hulce is perfect in portraying the square peg in IRS's round hole. He is a delight.

Linda Hunt charms as the somewhat bemused psychiatrist who keeps insisting that if Harold is hearing a voice, he is schizophrenic. Harold insists that the voice is not telling him to do things but merely narrating. In a beautifully delivered line, Hunt states that his problem in not based in psychiatry and suggests that Harold consult an expert in literature.

Dustin Hoffman shines as the literature professor who, at first, rejects Harold's appeal but then becomes intrigued. In his acting, Hoffman sometimes has the tendency to go a little over the top when playing somewhat quirky characters, but here his acting is restrained and perfect.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is the woman who astounds Harold with her beauty, intelligence, and passion for life. His desire to know her better - along with the comments from the narrator - cause him to examine and change his life. Gyllenhaal deftly gives us a sexy, desirable woman filled with an independent spirit.

The neurotic author with writer's block and her down-to-earth assistant sent in by the publisher to help get the book finished are played by Emma Thompson and Queen Latifah. What a combination! They are so good together. Thompson's character is a total mess dressed in rumpled clothing, twisting tissues to shreds, and staring vacantly with red, wild eyes. Latifah's character is always perfectly dressed and coiffed and is a picture of firm, yet compassionate, control.

In the special features on the DVD, the actors laud the director for his low-keyed guidance. It is clear that viewers can thank Marc Forster for creating a film that might have been a mess and total farce, but is, instead, a witty, thoughtful examination of life.

Also on the DVD, the creators explain about the GUI (graphics user interface) used in the film. For me and all you other non-geeks reading this review, look up at the top of your screen. All those buttons, etc. are GUI In the film GUI is imposed upon the screen to show how Harold deals with the outside world. He is obsessed with numbers and order and the GUI is perfect in showing his computer-like thinking patterns.

If you haven't seen this film or had dismissed it as a silly comedy, I urge you to take the advice of my niece and see it. You won't be disappointed.

Neil Turner
March 1, 2007

Stranger than Fiction