Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction

Year 2, Day 22 - 1/22/10 - Movie #387

BEFORE: The plan was to get together with some co-workers and ex-co-workers tonight, and watch an academy screener of "Bruno" - we ended up eating homemade pizza and venting about work, and we didn't get to the DVD - so I'll watch this piece of metafiction instead.

THE PLOT: An IRS auditor suddenly finds himself the subject of narration only he can hear: narration that begins to affect his entire life, from his work, to his love-interest, to his death.

AFTER: I found this to be extremely clever and original - and it raised a lot of interesting questions. What would you do if your life suddenly came with a commentary track? What does it mean - are you a fictional character? What if we're all just fictional characters in someone else's book? This is a variation on the old "brain in a jar" thought experiment - what if we're all just brains in a lab, someone's lab samples, and everything around us is just an illusion? Are we even in control of our destinies at all?

Harold Crick hears this proper British narration and gets a glimpse of some larger force - so he sets out to learn the "rules" of the situation, by consulting a literature expert, Professor Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). Smart move - using the conventions of the fiction genre to determine whether his story is a comedy (which means he'd get the girl and live happily ever after) or a tragedy (his new relationship won't work out, and he'll probably die some tragic death)

Oddly, for this OCD-afflicted very boring IRS agent, finding out that his universe's author might be planning to kill him off proves to be just the kick in the pants he needs to start living his own life the way he wants to. It's time to get busy living, or get busy dying - so he makes his move with the cute bakery owner (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and takes guitar lessons. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to change his fate, he figures out how to contact the author who seems to be writing and narrating his story and beg her not to kill him off.

As for the author, Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), she's awful surprised when one of her fictional creations tracks her down and walks into her office - I suppose I should be upset that no one ever really figures out how this is all possible, or why it's happening. Once again, like in "Delirious", we see a "magic typewriter" as a symbol for the power of the written word - and it's just sort of taken for granted that what she types in her manuscript will manifest itself in Harold's life.

But the movie is so elegant, and so poignant, that I (almost) don't care. It raises all these pertinent points - like, how would you spend your time if you knew you were going to die? And since we're all going to die someday, why don't we tend to live that way?

There's a lot more about the nature of human interaction, but I've probably said too much as it is. It's nice to see Will Ferrell play something relatively straight and not just be a big goofball - and I'll probably be thinking about this one for a while.

Also starring Queen Latifah, Tony Hale, with cameos from Linda Hunt, Kristin Chenoweth, and Tom Hulce (who's really let himself go since "Amadeus" - I barely recognized him...)

RATING: 8 out of 10 chocolate-chip cookies

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