life is the crummiest book i ever read


Stranger Than Fiction basically sucks. It's like a hybrid of The Truman Show and Adaptation, only written by someone dumber and less creative. To its credit, the film does not star Nicolas Cage. I saw it with Louise, just after seeing For Your Consideration. After thirty minutes, we would have asked for our money back, except we snuck in for free.

Here's the plot: Will Ferrell starts hearing a disembodied voice narrating his activities, and quickly learns that he's a character in Emma Thompson's novel. No one thinks this is all that weird. No one notices when he starts yelling at the narrator from a bus stop. When he visits a psychiatrist who diagnoses him with schizophrenia, she cheerfully refers him to a professor of literature, played by wacky Dustin Hoffman.

Emma Thompson spends the film smoking cigarettes, wackily spitting into a Kleenex, and trying to finish her novel. Queen Latifah is her assistant, hired to ensure that she delivers her manuscript on time. Latifah doesn't do anything that we see to make that happen, besides lay out some index cards and give Emma Thompson informational packets about nicotine gum. Emma Thompson is obsessed with death, and it is not presented in a subtle way.

One problem with the movie is that our hero is basically a robot. Will Ferrell doesn't have any interests, or friends, or hobbies, or free will. He's basically a robot, albeit a robot who sometimes pees into a plastic bottle, based on a questionable interpretation of Dustin Hoffman's advice.

He also falls in love with Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays a wacky baker. Their big romantic breakthrough is based on two absurd premises:

1. Maggie dropped out of Harvard Law School to become an anarchist baker, because she used to make cookies for study sessions, and everyone really loved them.
2. Will Ferrell has never eaten a homemade cookie.

At first, I thought, "Of course he hasn't eaten a homemade cookie - he's only a fictional character!" Would this be a comment on his unsettled fictional past? Would he realize that his own personal history was dependent solely on an author's whim? Nope. It turns out that Will Ferrell's mom only ever bought store-bought cookies. What a scene!

Will Emma Thompson kill her fictional character, who's actually sort of a real person, but maybe still fictional? Will Queen Latifah get her to finish the book on time on with her tough-talking no-nonsense ways? Will Maggie Gyllenhaal fall in love with Ferrell, even though he's an IRS agent who's auditing her? Will Dustin Hoffman take his shirt off for no reason? Will two completely random characters show up for the film's conclusion and still end up in the final montage? Will Louise complain about Maggie Gyllenhaal's poor acting and flirtatious, inappropriately-sexual anarchist-baking style? You'd have to go see the movie to find out, but you really shouldn't see it, so I'll answer those questions after the jump:

1. No, and I guess he's ultimately sort of real?
2. Yes, though she asks for a no-nonsense extension of time.
3. Yes, and even the audit's OK, except she intentionally got audited, so maybe she's going to intentionally underpay her taxes again? Oh anarchist bakers, will you ever learn?
4. Yes. Not looking too bad, that Dustin Hoffman.
5. Yes. They both get big, big hugs, too.
6. Yes, and with good cause.

What was the theme of Stranger Than Fiction?

Louise: I learned a valuable lesson about valuing compassion for other human beings over beautiful writing.

Sean: You shouldn't murder someone just so Queen Latifah won't miss a deadline.


I haven't seen the movie, but I read the script when it was getting passed around as the hot new script by the hot new writer about town. It seemed clever in a rather self-satisfied way, but my biggest problem with it is that Emma Thompson is supposedly agonizing over coming up with a really clever, perfect way to kill Will Ferrell, and the solution she is so delighted to come up with is such a lame, forced, deus ex machina that it's hard to believe this is what she was looking for all that time.

Was the music really good? One of the distinctive things about the script was that it included really specific music cues, and was sent out with a companion mix CD of said music.

Totally craptastic, for sure. But that Will Ferrell can act, huh?

There was a sequence at the beginning that was timed to a Spoon song, "The Way We Get By". The whole movie had a lot of music by Spoon, including one song that's also in commercials. I'm not sure if that's the same stuff that came on the original companion CD, or if they decided to make it more indie rock-heavy later.

Oddly, my main problem with this film was the writing style Emma Thompson's character used for her supposed greatest book of the century. The bits she read aloud were boring and clunky -- I mean the writing itself, in addition to the tooth-brushing subject matter. I feel like the real Emma Thompson could have written a much better book herself.

I did actually like this movie though, maybe because I wasn't expecting great philosophy -- the Matrix series cured me of that forever. Though it did make me uncomfortable when Maggie G. spent two straight minutes reciting a list of baked goods in a seductive voice while Will Ferrell chewed in horny slow-mo.

I'll probably see it anyway, I just wanted to give props for a Bad Religion reference.

Umm I like this film alot. I thought it was really well made and had a story I hadn't seen before (though the story inside the story I had seen before, but that was the point).

I guess I differ a whole lot from the Fun Couple on this one.

Dido, that seductive recitation of pastry varieties is what you get at any anarchist bakery, so I think the movie was pretty accurate there. You do have to provide your own slow-motion horny chewing, however.

One thing that is very difficult to stomach, especially when you are hating a film already, is when characters in the film sit around and discuss how brilliant the story is. Four of the five principal characters all get their own moment to acknowledge that Emma Thompson's story - the story that we are ostensibly watching - is the greatest English-language story in years. But maybe they were really talking about the elaborately forced deus ex machina, which may have indeed been the greatest English-language forced deus ex machina in years.

Come on, didn't you giggle just a little when Maggie G. insisted that anarchists can't meet in groups or it destroys the point? Weren't you sort of mentally inserting "actually, what it destroys is my bathroom"?

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on November 20, 2006 6:26 PM.

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