Monday, September 10, 2007

DVD review: Stranger than Fiction

Who hasn’t thought, at least once, that the events of their lives are being penned by some anonymous author, and are beyond our control? This conceit is the very basis of faith and religion and is the focal point of the film as Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) literally meets his maker.
Directed by the inestimably overrated French filmmaker Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball), the film manages to be the perfect vehicle for his penchant for literalizing subtext (ie. Flash cuts of a bird freed from a cage during Halle Berry’s sex scenes in Monster’s Ball). Visualizing the OCD Harold’s inner view of the world with an Apple style “GUI” overlay, one is immediately drawn into his point of view. Previously unaware that his life is being orchestrated by an author who has writer’s block (Emma Thompson), Harold is shocked when he begins hearing her voice narrating his life. Ferrell does an admirable job of walking a line between his trademark manic intensity and the utter stillness of man who can only function inside the mediocrity of routine.
The film is jam-packed with fantastic performances and quietly shows how a person, when forced outside their comfort zone (and in this case, faced with their impending doom) re-arranges their priorities to truly seek out happiness. Unfortunately the film fails to live up to its own subtext of destiny, and the lack of control in the face of a greater power’s whims. Harold confronts his “maker” (though one wonders at what point in his life she claimed authorship on him, as she has only been writing this particular book for a short span of Harold’s life, which begs the question of what power lies in name), forcing Emma Thompson into an ethical dilemma. Only by completing her book with Harold’s death will the work have any meaning, as it is often referred to as her “masterpiece”; Harold himself reads the unfinished manuscript and is touched by it enough to go to his death willingly. By completing the book, typing the words of Harold’s death, she will condemn him, but by having met Harold in the flesh, no longer a character but a person, she is unable to bring herself to do it. She reasons “that any man willingly to knowingly face his own death to save another person is someone you want to keep alive”. While noble it renders her work of art merely mediocre, thus rendering Harold’s life as well as the film mediocre. The hubris of the screenwriter and the director in they are telling the story of telling the store of creating a masterpiece is extraordinary, but had they the courage to finalize the act that would render it a masterpiece, they condemn their own work to mediocrity. In the words of Dustin Hoffman when reading the finished work “It’s just okay”.
That said, this is easily Marc Forster’s best work and if he can learn to leave subtext as subtext I look forward to his next film.

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