ⓘ Stranger than Fiction (2006 film)

                                     

ⓘ Stranger than Fiction (2006 film)

Stranger than Fiction is a 2006 American fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Marc Forster, produced by Lindsay Doran, and written by Zach Helm. The film stars Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson. The main plot follows Harold Crick, an IRS worker who begins hearing a disembodied voice narrating his life as it happens – seemingly the text of a novel in which it is stated that he, the main character, will soon die – and he frantically seeks to somehow prevent that ending. The film was shot on location in Chicago, and has been praised for its innovative, intelligent story and fine performances. Ferrell, who came to prominence playing brash comedic parts, garnered particular attention for offering a restrained performance in his first starring dramatic role.

Stranger than Fiction was released by Columbia Pictures on November 10, 2006. Upon release, the film received positive reviews mainly for its themes, humor, and performances. Despite critical success, the film was a box office disappointment, grossing $53 million against budget of $30 million.

                                     

1. Plot

Harold Crick, an agent for the Internal Revenue Service, is a lonely man who lives his life by his wristwatch. He is assigned to audit an intentionally tax-delinquent baker, Ana Pascal, to whom he is attracted. On the same day, he begins hearing the voice of a woman omnisciently narrating his life as if he were a main character in a novel, but is unable to communicate with it. Harolds watch stops working and he resets it using the time given by a bystander; the voice narrates, "little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death". Worried by this prediction, Harold consults a psychiatrist who attributes the voice to schizophrenia, though they consider that if there really is a narrator, he should visit an expert in literature. Crick visits Jules Hilbert, a literature professor, and relates his story. When Jules recognizes aspects of a literary work in Harolds story, he encourages Harold to identify the author, first by determining if the work is a comedy or tragedy.

As Harold audits Ana, the two fall for each other. When Harold refuses to accept cookies that Ana made for him because they could be viewed as a bribe, Ana tells him to leave, making Harold believe his story is a tragedy. On the advice of Jules, Harold spends the next day at home trying to control his destiny by doing nothing, but his apartment is partially demolished by a wrecking crew that mistook the building for an abandoned one. Jules believes that since Harold cannot control the plot, he should accept his impending death and enjoy whatever time he has left. Harold takes a vacation from work, develops his friendship with his co-worker Dave, fulfills his dream of learning to play the guitar, and apologizes to Ana and begins dating her. Harold reassesses his story as a comedy. When he returns to Jules with this revelation, Harold inadvertently identifies the voice in his head from a television interview as author Karen Eiffel. Jules, an admirer of Karens work, reveals that all of her books feature the main characters tragic death.

Karen struggles from writers block and researches ways to kill the character Harold to complete her next book. Her publisher sends an assistant, Penny Escher, to ensure the book is completed. Harold finds Karen through her tax records. When Karen learns that Harold experiences everything she writes, she is horrified by the thought that her books may have killed real people. She tells Harold she wrote a draft of his death, but has not typed it up yet; the events in the book manifest when she strikes the period key. Penny suggests Harold read the drafted ending to get his opinion. Harold cannot bring himself to read it and gives the manuscript to Jules to review. Jules confirms its excellence, labeling it as Karens masterpiece; Harolds death is integral to its genius. Though Harold is distressed over his fate, Jules comforts him by stating the inevitability of death: this one death, at least, will have a deeper meaning. Harold reads the manuscript, then returns it to Karen, telling her the death she has written for him is "beautiful" and she should keep it intact. He spends one last night with Ana.

The next day, Harold prepares to return to work, despite Karens voice narrating as she types up her ending. Because Harolds watch is three minutes fast owing to the imprecise time given to him weeks earlier, he reaches the bus stop early and watches as a young boy falls in front of the oncoming bus. Karen continues writing; Harold leaps from the curb and pushes the child out of the way, but is struck by the bus instead. Karen cannot complete the sentence confirming Harolds death, and Harold wakes up in a hospital, injured but alive. He learns that fragments of his wristwatch blocked the right ulnar artery in his body after the collision, saving his life.

When Jules reads Karens final manuscript, he notes that the story is weaker without Harolds death. Karen admits the flaw, but points out that the story was meant to be about a man who dies unexpectedly; with Harold sacrificing himself, knowing he could have prevented his death, the story would have lost its tragic impact. In place of Harold, his wristwatch - anthropomorphized throughout the entire film - is the character who died tragically.

                                     

2. Cast

  • Queen Latifah as Penny Escher, a secretary who helps authors to finish their works.
  • Tom Hulce as Dr. Cayly
  • Kristin Chenoweth as Book Channel host
  • Tony Hale as Dave, Harolds friend from his work.
  • Emma Thompson as Karen Eiffel, a partially depressed author known for killing her main protagonists in her novels, but ends up writing a novel named "Death and Taxes" about Harolds life.
  • Will Ferrell as Harold Crick, an IRS agent who starts hearing Eiffels voice narrating his life.
  • Dustin Hoffman as Professor Jules Hilbert, a literature expert advising Crick.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ana Pascal, a local baker who goes up against any kinds of governmental taxes but falls in love with Crick.
  • Linda Hunt as Dr. Mittag-Leffler, a psychologist whom Crick sees in hopes of solving his narration problem.
                                     

3.1. Production Writing

In 2001, writer Zach Helm was working with producer Clarence Helmus on a project they called "The Disassociate". Helm came to Doran with a new idea involving a man who finds himself accompanied by a narrator that only he can hear. Helm next decided that the narrator should state that the man is going to die because, as Helm described, "theres something very poetic about the understanding of ones place in the universe, but its far more dramatic when such understanding occurs only days before that life ends." Helm and Doran began referring to the new project as "The Narrator Project" and developed the story through a process of Helms bringing ideas and Dorans asking questions. One of Helms main ideas involved engaging the movies form as much as its content.

Helm named each of the films chief characters after a famous scientist or scientifically influential artist, examples including Crick, Pascal, Eiffel, Escher, and Hilbert. When the character of Dr. Hilbert tells Harold that he has devised a series of 23 questions in order to investigate the narrator, it is a playful reference to Hilberts 23 problems. The films title derives from a quote by Lord Byron: "Tis strange - but true; for truth is always strange, Stranger than fiction".

According to Helm, one of the films major themes is of interconnectivity. Helm stated "Each of these characters ends up doing little things to save one another. Theres an underlying theme that the things we take most for granted are often the ones that make life worth living and actually keep us alive."



                                     

3.2. Production Photography

The film was shot on location in Chicago, Illinois. Daves apartment, in which Harold takes residence after his own building partially is demolished, is part of the River City Condominiums. Hilberts office was in a lecture hall at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The CNA Center at 333 South Wabash Avenue in the Loop served as the location for the IRS office. The bakery that Ana Pascal runs is located in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago and is called La Catedral Cafe & Restaurant. The movie theatre in the film is the Logan Theatre located in the Logan Square neighborhood. Many downtown Chicago locations were used for scenes involving Karen Eiffel, Penny Escher, and Harold Crick. Columbia Pictures distributed the film.

The film partly was inspired by Playtime 1967, Jacques Tatis visionary comedy about modern urban life, and the cinematography and production design help create a claustrophobic sense of life in the city.

                                     

3.3. Production Music

The music for this film includes original scores by the collaborative effort of Britt Daniel singer/songwriter of Spoon and Brian Reitzell composer for Friday Night Lights, The Bling Ring and Hannibal, as well as a mix of indie rock songs from various artists including Spoon. Reitzell is also the films music supervisor. The soundtrack includes an original recording of "Whole Wide World", the song that Harold plays for Ana, by Wreckless Eric.

                                     

4. Release

Stranger than Fiction was released in the United States on November 10, 2006. It opened at #4 in the box office and grossed $13.4 million in 2264 theaters. Its widest release was 2270 theaters, across which it grossed $40.7 million. Outside the US, it grossed another $13 million, for a worldwide total of $53.6 million.



                                     

5. Reception

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 73% approval rating based on 175 reviews; the average rating is 6.87/10. The sites critical consensus reads, "A fun, whimsical tale about an office drone trying to save his life from his narrator, Stranger Than Fiction features a subdued performance from Will Ferrell that contributes mightily to its quirky, mind-bending affect." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 67 out of 100 based on 35 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars, stating that the film was thought-provoking and moral, and that "Such an uncommonly intelligent film does not often get made.which requires us to enter the lives of these specific quiet, sweet, worthy people", and he also praised Ferrells performance saying, "Will Ferrell stars, in another role showing that like Steve Martin and Robin Williams he has dramatic gifts to equal his comedic talent".

Rolling Stone rated the film 3 out of 4 stars, stating that though the premise of Ferrells life being narrated is a set-up for farce, the film is "less self-reflexively clever and more intimate". Todd McCarthy in Variety positively reviewed the film, praising its invention and Ferrells performance as nuanced: first playing a tight focused caricature of the company man, then exercising more humanity and wit without being "goofy".



                                     

5.1. Reception Accolades

Will Ferrell

  • Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Actor
  • Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy

Zach Helm

  • Nominated – Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Writer
  • Won – National Board of Review Award for Best Original Screenplay
  • Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Writing

Emma Thompson

  • Nominated – Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
  • Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress

Maggie Gyllenhaal

  • Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Actress