Even though Harold Crick was a man of infinite numbers, endless calculations, and remarkably few words, what Harold (Will Ferrell) lacks in loquaciousness, the film in which he stars makes up for in wit and exceptional storytelling. Stranger than Fiction, the 2006 debut screenplay of Zach Helm, garnered generally favorable reviews by the critics, receiving an average rating of 6.8/10 on Rotten Tomatoes. The widely known review aggregate reveres it as a fun, whimsical tale featuring subdued performances from Will Ferrell that contributes mightily to its quirky, mind-bending affect. Much like a skilled craftsman does to a fine allotment of oak, director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) delicately chisels Helms dazzling and thought-provoking screenplay into an intricate work of emotional artistry.
Shot on location in Chicago, Illinois, Stranger than Fiction follows the life of Harold Crick, an IRS agent, and his equally taciturn wristwatch. Harold has lived his life by the number as well as the clock for twelve years. Counting his steps to the 8:17 Kronecker bus and timing his life to the minute, Harold finds himself lost in the consistent mundane. This was until, one particularly unusual Wednesday morning where Harold begins to hear a woman's voice (Emma Thompson) narrating his life from the omniscient. The presence of the voice and its pass頡nnouncement of his imminent death frightens Harold into an attempt to find the source of the narration, unceremoniously plunging him into a fate and a storyline he had not known he'd been a part.
Dustin Hoffman plays Dr. Jules Hilbert, an English Literature and Theory professor who takes interest in Harolds life only after Harold reveals the literary potential hidden in the words of his own narration. Hoffmans portrayal of the role; focused, single-minded, and disinterested, provides the perfect compliment to Ferrels caricature of a concerned, blue collared every day man. Their joint performance keeps the tone light hearted, yet thoughtful and serious in contrast to Ferrels usual roles. As Dr. Hilbert helps Harold regain his life and even spark up a storybook romance, Harold begins to understand that the quality of a life lived is more important than the time spent living it. This theme is well portrayed with the introduction of Harolds inevitable love interest Ms. Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
Though in wit the two eventual lovers are well matched, the pairing seems unlikely. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a liberal baker who Harold was sent, by fate and fantastic narration, to audit. His attraction to Ana helps send him into a whirlwind of colorful scenery that had before been absent from his life. His walls that were pale white and his shirts that stayed a consistent depressing blue, were immediately contrasted with the plethora of colors and emotions thrown back at him by Ms. Pascal. The hatred she has for him transforms with his own self-transformation, suddenly giving him something to live for.
As Harold both discovers a life worth living and frantically continues his search for the writer whos penning it, the film gently weaves in the theme of interconnectivity. With subtly beautiful transitions, Forster adds in the anomalies of every day life into the story, effectively conveying that one life is affected by a multitude of others. Just as the inanimate wristwatch continually effects Harolds life, so does the actions of every character and each extra. While such a magnitudes extra information seems like it would be overkill for such a story, somehow Forster manages to tie it all in a way that is simple, lovely, and not at all overwhelming.
Stranger than Fiction, once a haphazard idea of Zach Helm, has turned into a beautiful story of interconnectivity and self realization. The themes of the film are conveyed simply and elegantly. Marc Forster and Zach Helm do an excellent job of creating a story that is both aesthetically pleasing, thought provoking, and emotionally satisfying. Held forever in the hearts of those who have viewed it, my only wishes for the film is that I wish it had been seen by more people.