The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Stranger Than Fiction

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Stranger Than Fiction”
Rated PG-13

Inventively inverting the author’s anxiety of  “Adaptation.” into a light romance, 2006’s “Stranger Than Fiction” stood as one of the most nimbly intelligent, lively, charming and beguiling existential-concept comedies since “Groundhog Day.”

As “Punch-Drunk Love” was to Adam Sandler, “Stranger” was to star Will Ferrell — a perfect seriocomic splinter cell of his big-baby persona, with exasperation that’s sweet rather than silly as a man inspired to live only when threatened with death.

He’s Harold Crick, an IRS auditor whose mundane existence is torn asunder upon hearing female narration of his actions, thoughts and impending death.

The voice belongs to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a novelist known for offing characters, but who has writer’s block when it comes to Harold’s chopping block. (Queen Latifah plays a hired assassin, as it were, sent to consult.)

Panicking, Harold enlists a rumpled English professor (Dustin Hoffman) to help him influence Karen to change her mind, especially once he woos a rebellious baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whom he’s auditing.

Zach Helm’s script stripped literary vehicles of coincidence, irony and comedy down to their emotional engines, and director Marc Forster, easing off his usual awards-bait drama, delivered his most organic film.

There’s surprisingly sexy warmth and chemistry between Ferrell and Gyllenhaal — whose squinty judicial eyebrows eventually widen with love to Kewpie-doll size.

It’s a romance as chivalrous and kind as the entirety of “Fiction” — which invested enough in its characters that you hoped they’d circumvent the tropes and traps of tragedy in front of them.

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2 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Stranger Than Fiction”

  1. Nick Rogers says:

    mia: True that, although I think the more overtly romantic approach of the movie and the performance *is* a bit more reminiscent of "Punch-Drunk Love." Regardless, those are three great films with three unexpectedly dramatic lead performances all snubbed by the Academy.

    I’m not the biggest Marc Forster fan. "Monster’s Ball" was so relentlessly depressing it veered into self-parody, Finding Neverland" was a treacly mess, "The Kite Runner" was a so-so adaptation and "Quantum of Solace" was a journeyman action film at best. But I love that he and his production crew found a way to turn Chicago into a character here. An earlier draft made mention of this appreciation, but dem’s the breaks of self-imposed 250-word maximums of which, if you can believe it, I only have a dozen more to write.

  2. When I think of Will Ferrell in this movie, I also recall Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine. Such beautiful performances from both.

    I remember seeing Stranger Than Fiction right when I was going through some weird life changes of my own. Really hit home, while making me laugh at the same time. Also, the absurd use of Chicago was spot-on.