The protagonist of Marc Forster’s “Stranger Than Fiction,” Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), could not be any more dull. An auditor for the IRS, he wakes up every morning by the alarm on his wristwatch, brushes his teeth while simultaneously counting the number of strokes he uses, gets dressed, rides a public bus to work with a green apple in his mouth, works and returns home. He has no family, friends or even pets. He is not happy, but he is not unhappy. He has no feelings about his life. He just goes about it.
That is, until he begins hearing a disembodied female voice inside his head, narrating all that he did, and predicting all that would happen to him. The narration begins innocently enough; creepy and distracting as it is—especially during his encounter with Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a baker he visits to audit her tax returns but is strangely attracted to—it simply narrates the mundane events of his painfully monotonous life. But when Harold resets his watch after it breaks down, the female voice states: “Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.”
Startled, Harold begins a quest to find the source of the omniscient narration, and, along the way, he breaks the uniformity of his life, taking a break from work, interacting with other people, and even pursuing a romance with Ana. However, the reason for the narration, he discovers, may extinguish all his newfound happiness.
As strange as the plot is, the storytelling is impeccable throughout the movie, banishing any confusion about the actual events themselves, although questions may linger as to the how and why of some events. With funnyman Will Ferrell in the leading role, a loud, obvious comedy may be the expected, but “Stranger than Fiction” is pleasingly quietly funny, executed through clever screenplay–memorable moments include Harold’s “I want you”‘s to Ana and his bringing Ana flours to bake with instead of flowers–and a masterful, subdued performance by Ferrell.
The movie as a whole is humorous yet poetic and insightful, and its message—that “we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties which we assume accessorize our days are in fact here for a much larger and much nobler cause”—is no exception. To a generation of workaholics whose fast-paced lives often leave no room for the appreciation of small pleasures, the message is particularly resonating.
“Stranger Than Fiction” is one of the rare movies that possess everything—plot, actors, message—and, of course, a dash of humor.