Film review: Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

I recently stumbled across this highly enjoyable film. I had never heard about it before even though it has a stellar cast, and only decided to watch it because it was described as a comedy that was quirky and witty. The description was accurate. It is a film with good writing and excellent performances from all the actors. I am surprised that I missed hearing about it when it was first released and that it did not make a bigger impact.

The quirkiness comes from the plot premise. Emma Thompson plays a highly successful author who is a nervous wreck as she hits a major writer’s block with her latest novel. In her novels, the chief character always dies but in this case she does not know how to best kill off her protagonist Harold Crick, a loner IRS agent (Will Ferrell) whose life follows a rigid routine day after day. Her publishers send her an assistant (played by Queen Latifah) to help her overcome her block. But it turns out that Crick is not just a character she created but a real person who starts to hear the voice of Thompson in his head as she writes about him in the book, and it freaks him out to hear someone narrating his life as he is living it, especially when she talks about his impending death.

In his efforts to find out what is going on and stopping his own death, he first consults psychoanalysts who say that he has schizophrenia, a diagnosis which he rejects because he is sure that the voice he hears is real. He then contacts a professor of literature (Dustin Hoffman) and convinces him that he really is a character in someone’s novel. Hoffman tries to identify the genre of the story that Crick is in and who the author might be, saying that if it a comedy, he should be safe but if it is a tragedy, then the future looks bleak. Meanwhile, Harold gets involved with an anarchist bakery owner (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whom he is auditing for underpayment of taxes that she has deliberately withheld to protest the government using it to pay for wars and weapons.

Ferrell is surrounded by highly regarded actors in Gyllenhaal, Thompson, Latifah, and Hoffman but holds his own and turns in an impressive performance. He largely plays it straight, a foil for the other actors, and not the goofy doofus that characterize many of his other film roles. I think this is one of his finest performances.

Here’s the trailer


  1. Some Old Programmer says

    Is there a mIssing word in the 2nd paragraph?

    … she hits a major writer’s [block?] with her latest novel

    [I corrected it. Thanks. -- Mano]

  2. John Morales says

    Further to #1, this:
    “[…] , In her novels, the chief character always dies but in this case she does know how to best kill off her protagonist […]”

    Comma should be a full stop, and from context I’m pretty sure “does know” was intended to read “does not know”.

    On topic, not my cup of tea, that type of film, because what Mano describes as ‘quirky’ I think of as ‘ridiculous’.

    [I corrected the errors. Thanks. -- Mano]

  3. sarah00 says

    I really love this film. I’m not a huge fan of Will Ferrell as I find his style of comedy too over the top, but he’s really excellent in this. The scene where he brings Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character flours instead of flowers always makes me smile at its thoughtfulness. It’s a properly heartwarming and life-affirming film and I’m going to have to give it a rewatch as a salve to the shitness of 2020.

  4. Mano Singham says

    sarah00 @#3,

    I am so grateful for your comment. I totally missed that the tray he was carrying consisted of bags of ‘flours’! I was puzzled watching it and thought that maybe they were little bags of soil with seedlings.

    You would think that with my fondness for puns, I would have got a gag that was aimed straight at people like me.

  5. jenorafeuer says

    I think it’s one of those movies, sort of like The Last Action Hero with Arnold Schwarzenegger, which pretty much dropped into oblivion mostly because it didn’t follow the usual stereotypes of the lead actor: people who liked the actor and those stereotypes didn’t like the movie because it didn’t play to them, and people who didn’t like those stereotypes never saw it because they didn’t bother watching anything with that lead actor.

    It takes work to push past that sort of typecasting and not every actor manages it. (Schwarzenegger had the advantage that he’d invested enough money from previous roles that he pretty much never had to work again if he didn’t want to, and could afford to be choosy on roles. So he decided to have fun, and we ended up with things like Twins which did a lot better because it was a much cleaner break than the more parodic The Last Action Hero.)

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