I recently saw the movie STRANGER THAN FICTION, which stars Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It was well-worth seeing, especially for writers/booklovers. Not great, but entertaining, and thought-provoking in a Hollywood way. It poses two questions: (1) If you discovered that your life exactly parallels the life of a character in a book, and the book has a tragic ending, what would you do? (2) If you were a novelist and discovered that everything you write comes true, what would you do?
Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is a famous novelist who's having problems completing her eighth book. The main character of her book is Harold Crick, an uptight, repressed IRS auditor who lives a carefully structured, precise existence in which he does the same things every day in the same order, in the same way. Emma's book deadline has long expired and she's agonizing over how to finish the book.
Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an uptight, repressed IRS auditor who lives a carefully structured, precise existence...in which he does the same things every day in the same order, in the same way. One day Harold hears a voice narrating everything he's doing--while he's doing it. The narration continues, day after day. He starts talking back to The Voice--actually, shouting back to it. His boss is concerned, so Harold ends up seeing a psychiatrist--in fact, two psychiatrists. Neither can help him. The first one suggests that he needs a vacation and a hug. The second one tells him that the word for his condition is schizophrenia and he needs medication. When he refuses meds, the second shrink tells him that if the voice narrating his life is telling a story, then maybe he needs to see a literature professor.
So Harold finds a literature professor, Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who doesn't laugh at his claims, but tells him he needs to figure out whether he's in a comedy or a tragedy: "If it's a comedy, you get married. If it's a tragedy, you die." Hilbert is indifferent to Harold's plight until one day when Harold bursts into his office and tells him he heard The Voice narrating, "Little did he know his death was imminent." Hilbert becomes hugely excited, telling Harold, "Little did he know! Little did he know! I wrote a book on 'little did he know'! I've done papers and seminars, I've taught courses on 'little did he know'!" From that point on Hilbert actively assists Harold as Harold searches frantically for The Voice.
A simultaneous plot thread follows Harold's budding romance with Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a rebellious young woman whom he's assigned to audit for the IRS--an opposites-attract pairing, because he's stilted and inhibited and doesn't know himself at all, while she's wild and crazy and believes in following her muse wherever she leads.
The third thread follows blocked author Eiffel's despairing progress as she tries to squeeze out the final section of her novel--and her horror when she eventually discovers that her character Harold Crick is a real person.
Will Ferrell plays against type as the extremely repressed Harold, but does it well, showing his acting chops go well beyond the zany comedy for which he's known. Emma Thompson does a good job as the Tortured Author (Thompson wouldn't give a mediocre or bad performance in any role). Maggie Gyllenhaal is delightful as the kooky, rebellious free spirit Ana. But Dustin Hoffman steals the scene from all of them as the literature professor: the "little did he know" scene is priceless (especially to this former English major).
I rate it 3 stars on a scale of 5.