The marvelous thing about Stranger Than Fiction is that it’s a damn good film – it won’t be studied by eager film students sweating under their tilted berets, but it’s not up for a Razzie either. It’s just pleasantly good.
I love optimism. And this film has it in buckets.
So, freed from being too memorable, it gets to do some solid happy feels work – with romance, with hope, with fantastical absurdity, and some lovely little moments to stick it all together. It’s a film about the beauty of living, and the truth that even living as hard as you can, can still seem mind-numbingly boring to a casual observer. The point it makes is that if it makes you happy, stuff ‘em, even if it isn’t beautiful.
Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a boring man. He lives a life on the lighter shade of beige, and it never occurs to him to change until a voice – strong, feminine, exactly like what I would imagine God to sound like – starts narrating his life and announces that he’s marked for death. This is Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), writer, and notorious murderer of fictional characters.
Luckily, instead of accepting his death like the obedient civil servant he seems to be, he decides to defy God at the behest of a curious Professor Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). “Live” commands Hilbert, and Harold wakes the hell up. He grows a personality, he buys a guitar, and he pursues a woman that represents the complete screaming opposite of everything he is. With our first realisation that Harold can hear the narrator too, and his tentative and polite “Hello..?” to his toothbrush, we know that this must end well. It must end happy, or ruddy else.
And it’s just so lovely. All of it makes me wants to squeeze my cats just a little bit too hard with childish glee, because I love the cheese.
I love the predictable will-they-won’t-they-of-course-they-will-this-is-a-romcom romance.
I love that the superficial caricatures of the dull IRS agent and the anarchist baker grow past their constructed images – whether constructed by narrator God or director – to turn into warm, vulnerable, flawed humans that realise they like each other. To meet halfway, and be boring together.
And I absolutely, completely love that Ana Pascal (played excellently by Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a loud, shit-talking, muffin-slinging strident feminist left completely bowled over by a dumpy, sweet man in a plain jumper, bearing flours. Not flowers. Flours.
It’s a gesture of love, so desperate and reaching, so clearly painfully pondered over for hours that my heart breaks and swells at the sight of it – all this from an actor mostly known for brash one-liners and college humour flicks.
“I want you.”
Simple. If only everything was that easy. Nice one Harold.
As absurd as the premise is, Harold Crick takes his lot so seriously that you can’t possibly laugh at him, so it makes sense that Professor Hilbert takes it seriously too.
Together they determine Harold’s genre – comedy or tragedy – and by urging him to explore a possible relationship with Ana, Hilbert sets in motion a series of small acts where the characters keep doing – accidentally or not – little things to save each other. Ana with the biscuits. Harold with the Space Camp. Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) with the ludicrous nicotine patches. Even when Hilbert attempts to save Eiffel’s story over Harold’s life, she sacrifices art for mediocrity, saving Harold.
Harold’s death might never be as poetic as the death that Karen Eiffel had planned for him, but what I think director Marc Forster might be trying to say is that not everything needs to be beautiful or perfect, as long as it’s real.
The great thing about this good film is its optimism, and by extension, its hope. The hope for people to do more and be more than what they thought they could be. It’s a film that, like Karen Eiffel’s book, could have held more beauty and more meaning had Harold died in the end because we would have wept and pondered and discussed until our berets were all askew, but chose not to let that happen. So instead we get a smile, and the warm fuzzies because simply put, Harold’s a sweetheart that deserves another go.
Harold lives because life doesn’t need to end to be beautiful or poetic, because it can continue and be good. Not awesome, maybe not terribly inspiring, just good.
Happy. Content. So – good.