Would you die for art? I wouldn’t. Neither would Will Ferrell, but I suppose that’s because he hasn’t made much art worth dying for. One of his few dramatic turns, Stranger than Fiction, provides lukewarm results from a collectively stellar cast. A shame then that they can’t put their best efforts into a collaboration that would warrant it worthy of its near two-hour running time.
At times a serviceable leading man, Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, an IRS auditor who falls for the rebellious Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Quite the simple premise, but as Crick leads his life, he begins to hear narration from Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is set on making her comeback to the literary world. Tasked with convincing Eiffel that his life is worth living, Crick receives an aide from Professor Jules Hibbert (Dustin Hoffman), as he begins to work out if his meticulous routine and mundane life is worth living.
I know for a fact that, when he wants to, Ferrell can provide us with a truly enjoyable dramatic role. Look no further than Everything Must Go for examples of how great his lesser known works can be. In Stranger than Fiction he shows streaks of confidence in his serious leading role, but fails to capitalise on anything of note or interest. This may be due to the writing, which at first feels like it’s breaking away from cliché and contemporary romantic dramas. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and Stranger than Fiction works its way into being a completely unnoteworthy piece of film.
Ferrell’s diluted attempts at bringing about an interesting plot come up short, as does everyone else throughout the film. The great Dustin Hoffman provides ample supporting work, but nothing compares to his earlier performances in anything from Midnight Cowboy to Hook. Hoffman has so many great films under his belt that it becomes rather easy to see when a performance of his will be a worthy use of time. Here, it doesn’t feel like it’s worth it whatsoever, confined to an office and only really interacting with Ferrell’s obnoxiously redundant blank slate, Harold Crick.
The basis of the plot is that Eiffel’s writing begins to form Crick’s personality. It should work, but director Marc Forster struggles to balance the intricacies of the plot with the subtleties of the performance. Narration in film can make or break the interest of an audience, and unfortunately here it’s where it breaks it. Such an incredibly important aspect of the film, yet it feels so out of place and boring that I can’t help but dislike the majority of it.
By far not the worst film that Ferrell has ever starred in. You can merely dip into anything the man has starred in this past decade for an experience that’ll leave you wanting to pull your hair out. A shame though that Stranger than Fiction slumps down to a standard of mediocrity. It’s interesting ideas shrouded by conventional storytelling techniques that nearly always ruin a Hollywood blockbuster. Strong-ish performances will always fail under poor writing and meandering direction, and Stranger than Fiction is no change to that rule.