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Stranger than Fiction
DVD disk
04.19.2007 By: Quigles
Stranger than Fiction order
Marc Forster

Will Ferrell
Emma Thompson
Maggie Gyllenhaal


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An IRS auditor suddenly finds a woman's voice narrating his life. But little does he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act will result in his imminent death... Until of course he hears the voice repeat that very sentence.
Why is that when Will Ferrell finally proves he's capable of doing more than just making goofy faces while shouting comically, the movie ends up being a dud at the box office? The dude's like the next Jim Carrey. Both are talented comedic actors who obviously have a lot more to offer than just their "schtick," but it seems people have no interest in finding out what that is exactly. Too bad, because Ferrell's latest venture into dramatic work is fantastic. It's a rousing little picture that fuses moments of wit, charm, romance, humor, drama, melancholy, and a whole lot of fun. It's also very weird, much like a possible brainchild from a more lighthearted and mainstream Charlie Kaufman.

The script.

FICTION's screenplay relies heavily on the literary aspects of storytelling. It's likely that some people will mistake these (sometimes very tongue-in-cheek) themes layered throughout the script as examples of weak and unrealistic writing. This couldn't be further from the truth.

One example is the ending. I'm not going to spoil it, but there's an aspect of how the movie finishes that may annoy a lot of people (possibly claiming it to be a "cop-out" and whatnot). If that were the case though, those viewers would be completely missing the point of the film. They might also be missing some of the important details building up to that final scene (second viewing, anyone?). People may be surprised to find how intricate the plot mechanics of this film really are. So if you find yourself complaining about specific scenes that feel a little bit forced or awkward, you might want to look again.

The direction.

After offering up a whole section's worth of credit to the writing (that's all you, Zach Helm!), I can't possibly ignore the top-notch direction from Marc Forster (a highly underrated filmmaker). He's a man who takes full advantage of the film medium, always managing to inject his pictures with a sense of grace and style. He reminds me slightly of Christopher Nolan in that he makes movies where the actual feel of the movie is reminiscent to that of its themes (this once again goes back to the film's literary undertones).

The acting.

Helping to solidify the movie's excellence are the actors. I've already commented how impressive Ferrell's performance is, but it's Emma Thompson (as Eiffell) that steals the show. Her borderline psychotic approach to the role manages to be both hilarious and, at times, disheartening. It's a little unfortunate that her character has to work against the decidedly average Queen Latifah, but it doesn't detract from the experience in any significant way. Ferrell's support (i.e., love interest) comes in the form of the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal, who injects terrific energy in what easily might've been a worthless role. Also worth mentioning is Dustin Hoffman, who even though I like, doesn't normally impress me too much. Here, however, he's cast perfectly as the intelligent but consistently yammering English professor. He acts as both a source of the movie's humor as well as its reason.

The "holy-shit-this-movie-kicks-ass" conclusion.

Part of what I love about STRANGER THAN FICTION is how accessible it is. There's a lot of hidden depth explored throughout that might only be apparent to those who want to look for it. This makes it easy for the more casual moviegoer to enjoy the film the same as anybody else, while never having to rack their brain working out the complexities of what else the third act holds. But whichever mindset you choose to view the film under, there's no denying what an entertaining and altogether feel-good experience it actually is. (Oh, and... Holy shit, this movie kicks ass!)
This disc is loaded with worthwhile featurettes, but I'm more than a little disappointed at the lack of a commentary track.

Actors in Search of a Story (18:30): All about the casting process. Participants include director Marc Forster, writer Zach Helm, two of the producers, and of course, the actors.

Building the Team (8:30): A behind-the-scenes look at how the film's crew was assembled, starting with Forster, continuing onward to producer Lindsay Doran, and so on.

On Location in Chicago (10:30): As the title suggests, this featurette takes a look at the location scouting for the movie's Chicago setting.

Words on a Page (9:30): This is pretty much a collection of people going down on writer Zach Helm (with praise, that is) for creating such a great script. Can't say I blame them. The featurette also explores the development process for the script.

Picture a Number: The Evolution of a G.U.I. (17:15): A very cool and interesting featurette that delves into Harold Crick's obsessive compulsive quirks, where an effect is given on-screen to show how the character thinks and analyzes. It's referred to as Graphic User Interface, and the development of it is pretty damn cool.

On the Set (3:00): A montage of behind-the-scenes footage.

Deleted Scenes (11:30): There are two scenes, one of which is simply an extended version of the televised Book Channel interview with Karen Eiffel. The other is similar, featuring a different author. Interesting stuff - check them out.

Also included are seven Previews.
From its trailer, I assumed this was going to be just another silly Will Ferrell comedy. It had me worried and ready for disappointment, what with the filmmakers seemingly wasting such an excellent premise for the sake of over-the-top Ferrell gags (not that there isn't a place for that). But to my surprise, the movie not only takes full advantage of its premise (both comedically and dramatically), it also delivers something far different than most people could possibly be expecting. And I mean that in the best way possible. Think Charlie Kaufman meets Frank Capra. It's a wonderful life, indeed.
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