What a pleasure it was to watch “Stranger Than Fiction,” an absolutely charming romantic comedy with an all-star cast. “Fiction” hits every note with perfection, making it one of the most entertaining experiences of 2006.
“Fiction” tells the story of Karen Effiel (Emma Thompson), an author writing her latest novel about an isolated IRS agent named Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). What Effiel doesn't realize is that the character is actually a real person, who one day begins to hear the author's voice narrating his life.
Crick begins a quest to find where the voice is coming from, but his time is running out since Effiel is closing in on the final chapter of her book - which ends with Crick's death.
The film's story suggests it was written by Charlie Kaufman - the man behind films like “Adaptation” and “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” - and while “Fiction” does playfully jostle with the standard ideas of narrative, I believe it does so in much better fashion than any of Kaufman's previous work. “Fiction” writer Zach Helm creates a rather realistic world in a very strange and mystical situation. Even the payoff, which some may argue is a cop-out, fits nicely because it realizes its shortcomings without being too smug about it.
Helm's strong script is aided by superb direction from Marc Forster (pay attention to the seemingly random shots inserted throughout the film) and a top-notch cast.
Ferrell gives a performance that is a drastic departure from his “Old School” persona, and he proves to be more than capable of answering that challenge. Thompson is also very good as the manic writer desperately trying to finish her work.
There are strong supporting performances as well. Dustin Hoffman has plenty of humorous moments as an English professor who tries to help Crick. Maggie Gyllenhaal is absolutely gorgeous as Crick's love interest, a free-spirited bakery owner being audited by the IRS.
“Stranger than Fiction” only finished fourth at the box office last weekend, grossing almost $15 million dollars, but it is a film that deserves to find a larger audience. There are probably better films in 2006, but I'm not sure if there will be many that are more enjoyable than “Stranger Than Fiction.”
DVD dandy of the week
This week's dandy is “Accepted” (B), a surprisingly sharp comedy that manages to pay homage to classic comedies like “Animal House,” while delivering a lot of laughs.
“Accepted” centers around Bartleby (Justin Long), a fun-loving slacker who gets rejected from every school he applies for. With his parents continuing to pressure him about his future, Bartleby decides to create a fake university.
Before long Bartleby's creation becomes a sensation, with other college rejects looking to the fake university as a means of furthering their education.
“Accepted” isn't the most challenging film, but I found it to be much better than my expectations. Adam Cooper and Bill Collage's screenplay is full of witty one-liners, with a talented cast of relative unknowns. Long, best known for the Mac TV ads, has kind of a “Ferris Bueller”-type charm that works well here, while Jonah Hill has some funny moments as the best friend and comedian Lewis Black steals almost every scene he is in as the uncle recruited to act as the dean of the phony school.
“Accepted” is rated PG-13 for language, sexual material and drug content and is available now on DVD.