movie: Stranger than Fiction

I love to watch the Tour de France --cycling is the only sport that I want to go out and participate every time I watch it-- but I wish bicycling worked better on television. It just doesn't translate well to the screen.

I saw two movies on DVD this week and I liked both of them. Stranger than Fiction is a very good movie with great casting; Code Name: the Cleaner, on the other hand, has horrible writing and directing, stupid and obvious plot, but I liked it anyway due to the acting/chemistry of Cedric the Entertainer and Lucy Liu.

Stranger than Fiction is a miracle of wonderful casting. There was a short period in the first third of the movie where I thought the voice over gimmick in the movie got old but I think that was on purpose--right after that the plot twisted and Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) met the love interest Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). The contrast between Crick's life before Pascal and after is the point of the movie and that slow passage emphasized the transition. Neat.

This movie really showcases the skills of the actors involved. Ferrell demonstrates that he has real acting chops and can rise above, way above, the normal comedy he is famous for. Gyllenhall is luminescent. Any guy watching this is going to fall in love with her--I think I've recovered but it took a while--she's just perfect as a sensitive but independent and personally volatile baker. She meets Farrell's IRS field agent due to her only paying the portion of her taxes that do not support military spending and corporate tax breaks.

Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman do nice work here. Thompson's role is unusual for her and it really works. She holds the screen as a chain smoking neurotic writer who was once critically celebrated but is now struggling with decade long writer's block. Killing off her main character is all that stands in the way of finishing her novel. The twist, if you've not heard of this movie, is that Will Farrell's IRS agent character is the main character in the novel. Yes, it's an odd device but it works well in this movie. So to finish the novel, Harold Crick must die. And oddly enough, that imminent death is what motivates him to live.

Queen Latifah has a small role as an editorial assistant and she makes the most of it. I love her acting. Linda Hunt has a cameo and it's great to see that she's still around and taking an occasional role.

I can't suggest anyone watch The Cleaner despite my enjoying it. It really was a train wreck. However I think most people would enjoy Stranger than Fiction--just don't expect a typical Will Ferrell movie. This is far, far better than anything he's done before.


Carmi said…
I'm sold on Stranger Than Fiction. I saw the trailer last week and was absolutely captivated. I love unique movies that take us places we might not have otherwise gone.

I sighed heavily when I read your comments on television coverage of cycling. I agree with you: coverage today is, for the most part, deplorable.

Yet I remember when NBC covered the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Lance Armstrong made his Olympic debut that year. The network would put together these incredible packages that made you want to become a pro rider. They combined great color commentary, fast-paced editing and unbelievable music into shows that to this day I would pay money to own on DVD.

I guess all it takes is a little imagination and drive: which is what most sports-focused networks completely lack.
jsdaughter said…
Thanks for the reviews! Michele sent me..
Thumper said…
I remember when Greg LeMond was the hottest thing on 2 wheels...he really did make cycling look cool. The coverage on TV was actually worth watching.

I haven't seen either movie, but my son agrees with you on Stranger Than Fiction. He thought it was one of the best he's seen in a long time, and the Boy knows movies inside and out. Sooner or later I'll pick up the DVD (if he doesn't already have it) and watch it.

Here via Michele's tonight!
Michele said…
Your review of "Stranger than Fiction" actually makes me want to add it to my list of movies to rent, this surprises me because I tend to not include any Will Ferrell films on that list. However, you have made me re-consider. I shall also trust your opinion and avoid "Code Name: the Cleaner."

I also love to watch some of the Tour de France, although I agree with Carmi that "coverage today is, for the most part, deplorable."

As you know Utenzi I am here from the Meet n' Greet, so yes, Michele sent me in a third person kind of way.

Hmm. "Something" has inspired me to become more involved in my own blog. Ah, but you know that.
Catherine said…
That story line you describe for "Stranger than Fiction" sounds rather tricky to pull off. I hardly ever go to the movies, but this one sounds interesting. the last movie I saw was "Paris, Je T'Aime" (free tickets - I took my daughter who had spent a month in Paris a few years back). Here from Michele's.
I am not a Will Ferrell fan...but, based on your review I will add it to my Netflix List....I think all the other actors are wonderful and probably lifted the entire enterprise above the "norm"...I will avoid that other film, though...I had never heard of it anyway...(lol)
Mr. Althouse said…
Like Thumper, I remember when an unknown American named Greg Lemond set the cycling world on its ear.

As far as Will Farrell movies - I haven't seen one yet that ranks better than cute. Perhaps this is the one.

Michele sent me,

Jean-Luc Picard said…
That is a good review of the movie. I don't like Will Ferrell, especially after he ruined 'Bewitched', but he looks better from what you say in that.

Michele sent me.
colleen said…
I loved Will's deadpan IRS acting. So understated and funny in it's own serious way.
Red7Eric said…
Stranger Than Fiction was a great movie. I love the fact that it never explained exactly how a character in Emma Thompson's imagination was simulaneously a flesh-and-blood person on the other end of the city.

My theory (and I'm probably alone here) is that the film is actually a treatise on humanity's relationship to God, with "God" in this instance a chain-smoking neurotic who can barely hold herself together, yet still able to control our fates with a flick of the wrist -- Will Ferrell's journey in this movie was to essentially put himself in God's hands no matter the outcome, whereas God learned to be a little nicer to the ant-like humans under her care.

As an evangelical, fundamentalist agnostic, I'm not sure I agree with the underlying themes (I would have told God to stuff her stupid novel), but I did a lot of deep thinking after this movie -- perhaps too much?

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