Stranger than Fiction

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As a writer, I can assure you that nothing is more horrifying than writer’s block.  Bang your head against a wall, go out for a drive, read what someone else was written; it seems nothing can shake it.

So why not make a movie about it?

Thus “Stranger Than Fiction” was born.

In addition to blogging, I’m also a creative writer, so the very premise of the film fascinated me.  It tells the story of an author who needs to find a way to kill her main character, but can’t seem to find the proper way to do it.  As the film’s viewers, we see the story both from the author’s perspective and also the book’s character, Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell, who can hear the narrator’s voice.

One day, he hears the voice say his death is imminent.  Thus begins a panic-stricken attempt to avoid his impending demise.  He eventually finds a literary professor, played by Dustin Hoffman, who tries to help him sort out his story and thereby find a solution.  At the same time, our beloved author receives help from an assistant played by the beloved Queen Latifah, who boasts that as an author’s assistant she has helped several authors through writer’s block and has never had to ask a publisher for an extension.

stranger-than-fiction-movie-clip-screenshot-tax-audit_largeThe plot is further complicated by a run-in at Harold’s job.  He is an IRS agent and runs into a bakery owner, Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who fellow nerds know better as the replacement Rachel in “The Dark Knight”), who is, to put it kindly, a Libertarian intent on withholding some of her taxes from the government.  So, of course, they fall in love.

Ok, it doesn’t happen quite like that.  First she loathes his very core, then they slowly fall for each other.  That’s never been done before, right?

First the bad.  Since I already hinted at the love interest, let’s start with that.  The film has a couple of crude scenes that were definitely not needed in the movie.  These are skipped with ClearPlay, with the exception of an “after” scene which clearly sends the message that they are naked underneath the covers.  The love story in and of itself doesn’t need these scenes in the least.

The love story in itself was okay – I’ve seen worse, but I’ve definitely seen better.  On Ms. Pascal’s part, it comes off beautifully.  Maggie Gyllenhaal’s acting job is this film almost made up for her pathetic acting as Rachel in “The Dark Knight.”  However, the plot on Harold’s end is somewhat forced.  All goes well until he comes to her and says “I want you.”  Up to that point, everything proceeds pretty naturally, but at that point it’s as if the writers said “We can’t come up with anything to fill the gap, so let’s just skip the gap altogether.”

The portrayal of Harold’s job as an IRS agent paints the IRS as an agency of number experts who are kind and polite when they have to audit.  As recent scandals have taught us, that is not at all a realistic image.  The film also shows Pascal’s Libertarian views as radical, anarchist, and rebellious.  This is a notion that I object to, although it is not unchristian.

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By way of the movie’s overall worldview, it’s a pretty cool lesson.  We watch Harold Crick transform his life from a boring routine to truly living.  He falls in love and picks up the guitar.  He also slowly becomes a more interesting person outside of these events, showing more and more personality.  The writers, as well as Mr. Ferrell himself, did a fantastic job at his character development.  In the end, author Karen Eiffel decides to (barely) spare Harold Crick.  At that point, she says she does so “Because it’s a book about a man who doesn’t know he’s about to die. And then dies. But if a man does know he’s about to die and dies anyway. Dies- dies willingly, knowing that he could stop it, then- I mean, isn’t that the type of man who you want to keep alive?”  It’s a great statement about a rare kind of nobility: one who is willing to face death, not selfishly run from it.  Harold is told he will die but die willingly and he comes to terms with that.  That’s a very rare kind of integrity that is much needed.  As scripture tells us, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16).

All in all, it’s a cool story that I highly recommend with the aid of ClearPlay.

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