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