Stranger than Fiction (2006 film)

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Stranger than Fiction
Stranger Than Fiction (2006 movie poster).jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed byMarc Forster
Produced byLindsay Doran
Written byZach Helm
StarringWill Ferrell
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Dustin Hoffman
Queen Latifah
Emma Thompson
Music byBrian Reitzell
Britt Daniel
CinematographyRoberto Schaefer
Editing byMatt Chesse
StudioMandate Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • November 10, 2006 (2006-11-10)
Running time113 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$30 million[1]
Box office$53,653,224
 
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Stranger than Fiction
Stranger Than Fiction (2006 movie poster).jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed byMarc Forster
Produced byLindsay Doran
Written byZach Helm
StarringWill Ferrell
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Dustin Hoffman
Queen Latifah
Emma Thompson
Music byBrian Reitzell
Britt Daniel
CinematographyRoberto Schaefer
Editing byMatt Chesse
StudioMandate Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • November 10, 2006 (2006-11-10)
Running time113 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$30 million[1]
Box office$53,653,224

Stranger than Fiction is a 2006 American comedy-drama-fantasy film directed by Marc Forster, written by Zach Helm, and starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson. The main plot follows Harold Crick (portrayed by Ferrell), a nondescript IRS official whose regimented life is interrupted by a disembodied voice narrating events as they happen. Believing he is not mentally ill, Crick consults a literature professor (Hoffman) who suspects that Crick might be a character in a novel and who suggests that Crick analyze the narration to determine whether his story might be comedic or tragic. The film was shot on location in Chicago, and has been praised for its innovative, intelligent story and fine performances. Ferrell, who came to prominence playing brash comedic parts, garnered particular attention for offering a restrained performance in his first starring dramatic role.

Plot[edit]

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service, living his entire life based on the timing of his wristwatch. He is given the job to audit an intentionally tax-delinquent baker, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to whom he is awkwardly attracted. On the same day, he begins hearing the voice of a woman that is omnisciently narrating the events in his life, but he is unable to communicate with the voice. On his way home, Harold's watch stops working and he resets it using the time given by a bystander; the voice narrates "little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death". Worried over this prediction, Harold turns to a psychiatrist (Linda Hunt) who attributes the voice to schizophrenia; though they also consider that if it is not schizophrenia and there really is a narrator, he should then visit an expert in literature. Crick visits Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a university literature professor, and relates his story. Jules first comes to the same conclusion as the psychiatrist, as Harold's dull life is not something commonly seen in novels. However, Jules then recognizes aspects of a literary work in Harold's story ("little did he know"), and encourages him to help identify the author, first by determining if the work is a comedy or a tragedy.

As Harold proceeds to audit Ana, the two begin to fall for each other, but when Harold refuses to accept cookies that Ana made for him on the grounds that they could be viewed as a bribe, Ana angrily tells him to leave, making Harold believe the story is a tragedy. On the advice of Jules, Harold spends the next day at home to try to control his own destiny and stop the plot of the book by doing absolutely nothing, but his apartment is partially demolished by a wrecking crew mistaking the building for an abandoned one. Jules then believes that since Harold cannot control the plot that has been set for him, he should accept that he will die and enjoy whatever time he has left to the fullest. Harold takes this to heart: he takes an extended vacation from work, develops his friendship with his co-worker Dave (Tony Hale), fulfills his dream of learning to play the guitar and starts to see Ana on a regular basis. Harold believes he may have mistaken his story and now reassesses it as a comedy. When he returns to Jules with this revelation, Harold inadvertently identifies the voice in his head from a television interview as noted author Karen (Kay) Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Jules, an admirer of Eiffel's work, reveals that every book she has written is about the main character's tragic death.

Karen (who has been appearing throughout in a parallel story) has been struggling from writer's block for years and is currently researching numerous ways to have Crick die. Her publisher has sent an assistant, Penny Escher (Queen Latifah), to make sure the book gets completed (ironically, the book's title is "Death and Taxes", a snippet from a famous statement by Benjamin Franklin). Harold finds Eiffel through her tax records. When Karen learns that Harold is a real person and has experienced everything she's written, she is horrified by the thought that all of her previous books may have also resulted in the deaths of real people. She tells Harold she has finally written a draft of the ending and his death, but has not typed it up yet; the pair realize that all the events in the book become true when she strikes the period key. Penny suggests Harold read the book and the drafted ending to get his opinion. Harold is unable to bring himself to read it and gives the manuscript to Jules to review. Jules confirms its excellence, labeling it as Karen's masterpiece, and makes clear that Harold's death is integral to its genius. Though Harold is deeply distressed over his fate, Jules comforts him by stating the inevitability of death: this one death, at least, will have a deeper meaning by completing the book. Harold reads the manuscript himself over the course of a day; he returns the manuscript to Karen, telling her the death she has written for him is "beautiful" and that she should keep it as it is. Accepting his fate, he spends one last night with Ana.

The next day, Harold prepares to return to work after his vacation, despite Karen's voice narrating the fateful day as she types up her planned ending. Because Harold's watch is three minutes fast (owing to the imprecise time given to him when he reset his watch) he arrives at the bus stop early, and watches as a young boy on a bicycle rides in front of the arriving bus but falls. Karen continues to write, narrating as Harold leaps from the curb and pushes the child out of the way, saving the boy at the cost of being struck by the bus, however Karen is unable to complete the sentence confirming Harold's death. Harold wakes up to find himself in a hospital, severely injured but alive, Ana by his side. He learns that fragments of his wristwatch helped to block the right ulnar artery in his body after the collision, preventing him from bleeding to death. When Jules reads Karen's final manuscript, he notes that the story is weaker without Harold's death. Karen admits the flaw, although she points out that the story was meant to be about a man that dies unexpectedly; with Harold knowingly and willingly sacrificing himself, the story would have lost its tragic impact. In place of Harold, his wristwatch—anthropomorphized throughout most of the film—is now the character who died tragically.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Writing[edit]

In 2001, writer Zach Helm was working with producer Lindsay Doran on a project they called "The Disassociate."[2] Helm came to Doran with a new idea involving a man who finds himself accompanied by a narrator that only he can hear. Helm next decided that the narrator should state that the man is going to die since, as Helm described, "There's something very poetic about the understanding of one's place in the universe, but it's far more dramatic when such understanding occurs only days before that life ends." Helm and Doran began referring to the new project as "The Narrator Project" and developed the story through a process of Helm bringing ideas and Doran asking questions. One of Helm's main ideas involved engaging the movie's form as much as its content.[3]

Helm named each of the film's chief characters after a famous scientist, examples including Crick, Pascal, Eiffel, Escher, and Hilbert. When the character of Dr. Hilbert tells Harold that he has devised a series of 23 questions in order to investigate the narrator, it is a playful reference to Hilbert's 23 problems. The film's title derives from a quote by Mark Twain: "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."[4]

According to Helm, one of the film's major themes is of interconnectivity. As Helm stated, "Each of these characters ends up doing little things to save one another. There's an underlying theme that the things we take most for granted are often the ones that make life worth living and actually keep us alive."[3]

Photography[edit]

The film was shot on location in Chicago, Illinois in United States of America. Dave's apartment, in which Harold takes residence after his own building is partially demolished, is part of the River City Condominiums.[5] Hilbert's office was in a lecture hall at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The bakery that Ana Pascal runs is actually located in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago and is presently called La Catedral Cafe & Restaurant.[6] The movie theatre in the film is the Logan Theatre located in the Logan Square neighborhood.[7] Many downtown Chicago locations were used for scenes involving Karen Eiffel, Penny Escher, and Harold Crick.[5] Columbia Pictures distributed the film.[3]

The film was in part inspired by Playtime (1967), Jacques Tati's visionary comedy about modern urban life, and the cinematography and production design help create a claustrophobic sense of life in the city.[8]

Music[edit]

The music for this film includes original scores arranged by the collaborative effort of Brian Reitzell (Redd Kross, soundtracks for Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides, and Thumbsucker) and Britt Daniel (singer/songwriter of Spoon), as well as an eclectic mix of indie rock songs from various artists including Spoon.

The soundtrack includes the original recording of the song that Harold plays for Ana, "Whole Wide World" by Wreckless Eric.

Reception[edit]

The film received generally positive reviews. It holds a favorable rating of 73% at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.8/10, as well as a 67/100 rating on Metacritic.[9] Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars, stating that the film was thought-provoking and moral, and that "Such an uncommonly intelligent film does not often get made...which requires us to enter the lives of these specific quiet, sweet, worthy people", and he also praised Ferrell's performance saying, "Will Ferrell stars, in another role showing that like Steve Martin and Robin Williams he has dramatic gifts to equal his comedic talent".[10] Rolling Stone rated the film 3 out of 4 stars, stating that though the premise of Ferrell's life being narrated is a set-up for farce, the film is "less self-reflexively clever and more intimate".[11] Todd McCarthy in Variety positively reviewed the film, praising its invention and Ferrell's performance as nuanced: first playing a tight focused caricature of the company man, then exercising more humanity and wit without being "goofy".[8]

Box office[edit]

In the United States, for the week of November 10–12, 2006, Stranger than Fiction opened at #4 with an opening gross of $13 million behind the number-one movie for two weeks in a row, Borat. So far, Stranger than Fiction grossed $40 million.

In the United Kingdom, for the week of December 1–3, 2006 Stranger than Fiction opened at #7 with an opening gross of $730,099 behind Flushed Away (#2) and Deck the Halls (#5). Sony Pictures distributed Stranger than Fiction in the United Kingdom.

In France, for the week of January 10–16, 2007, Stranger than Fiction opened at #8 with an opening gross of $510,897 behind Le Serpent (#1) and Apocalypto (#3). In France, Gaumont distributed Stranger than Fiction.

In Australia, for the week of February 1–4, 2007, Stranger than Fiction opened at #5 with an opening gross of $598,525 behind Epic Movie which was the number-one movie for this week in Australia. In Australia, Roadshow Films distributed Stranger than Fiction.

Awards[edit]

Will Ferrell

Zach Helm

Emma Thompson

Maggie Gyllenhaal

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Stranger Than Fiction (2006) – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 13, 2011. 
  2. ^ Lindsey Doran, "Words on a Page" bonus featurette on DVD
  3. ^ a b c SONY Pictures Entertainment (2006). "Stranger than Fiction: Production Notes", document archived at WebCite July 6, 2008 based on the version posted at this original URL.
  4. ^ The Mark Twain Calendar. New York: Harper and Kleinteich. 1917. 
  5. ^ a b IMDB: Filming locations for – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
  6. ^ La Catedral Cafe & Restaurant
  7. ^ The Logan Theatre
  8. ^ a b McCarthy, T. Stranger Than Fiction Variety, 12 September 2006. Retrieved 18 February 2011
  9. ^ "Stranger Than Fiction Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 20, 2009. 
  10. ^ "Stranger Than Fiction Review". Roger Ebert. Retrieved May 20, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Stranger Than Fiction Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 20, 2009. 

External links[edit]