It’s probably the typewriter that was the cause of all the mystical, literary balley-hoo behind “Stranger than Fiction.” But really, the maguffin behind all this hootenanny isn’t important. We don’t care about the how of Harold Crick’s journey as much as the why, if this man, a boring, unassuming IRS agent can discover what it means to live before his wristwatch makes its final tick.
It’s a gem of a story, a four-star movie masquerading as a three-star one, something so fresh and lively and simple and poignant that its endlessly enjoyable with life themes as resonant as Hollywood’s most uplifting pictures. Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, IRS agent by day and, well, IRS agent by night, because he really has no life. Emma Thompson is Karen Eiffel, an eccentric but acclaimed author writing a novel about Crick’s life. Throughout his daily activities, Crick hears the prodding of Eiffel’s voice, eloquently narrating his routine far better than he ever could. For guidance, he reaches out to a literary professor played by Dustin Hoffman, and throughout the whole ordeal, falls in love with Harvard dropout and urban baker Ana Pascal, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
When I say a four-star movie masquerading as a three-star, I mean that on the surface, Stranger Than Fiction does nothing exemplary. Its direction is astute and dignified but not masterful. Its script is calm and clever but not Oscar-worthy. And its performances are dignified but not evocative, where no piece of dialogue or no extended sequence between characters brings a tear to our eyes.
Yet, this film is the stuff of greatness. It achieves because when all the pieces come together and tick accordingly, it arrives at every beat just on time, evoking something heartfelt and meaningful from us. It takes place in that soulless, heartless world, no, not the IRS, but the real world, where life isn’t overtly pleasing or hurtful, but just boring. It makes us want to see beauty in the mundane, to create art when we see no art from others hanging on the walls, and to question not “is this all there is,” but “if this is all there is, how can we make it better?”
“Stranger Than Fiction” was well-received on its initial release but deserves to be recognized as one of the most poignant and thoughtful films of the last decade. It is impossible not to enjoy this movie. And while it isn’t necessarily smart, it does make one think, not just about whether the movie could be better, but how their own life could be.