Redeeming Features: "Stranger Than Fiction"

Welcome to Redeeming Features. The blog where I (poorly) review movies that are underappreciated, underrated or under the radar, in hopes of convincing you to give them a second chance. Stranger Than FictionTo set up this week’s feature, lemme hit you with a little nonfiction story. One Sunday afternoon, many many moons I ago, I found myself lazily wasting away the day flipping through channels on the ole idiot box. Somewhere between reruns of Rugrats and reruns of What’s Happening!!, I happened upon a flick that made me say, “Sure, that’ll do.” So I watched said flick. And I was so pleased with it that I put pants on and headed straight for Blockbuster. (Yep. Blockbuster, which still existed all the way back in 2007.) I bought the movie on digital versatile disc, and it’s been a go-to in my household ever since. Strange to think that channel surfing, a simple, seemingly innocuous act, would lead to my overwhelming love of this film.

This week, you’ll be reading about Stranger Than Fiction, a thought-provoking tale wrongfully categorized under “romantic comedy.” I mean, sure, there’s love and junk, and you definitely laugh at parts, but none of it is over the top or even remotely cliché. If anything, I’d call it a sentimental smirk with a dash of fantasy and fable.

Strange Than Fiction follows Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an aging IRS agent whose life consists solely of self-inflicted monotony and boredom. Each day as forgettable as the next and lonelier than the last, Harold trudges through the hours by counting the minutes, the paces to the bus stop, and even the number of brush strokes one must apply to each tooth in order to maintain a wildly mediocre smile. Everything perfectly executed so that everything can remain perfectly diluted and devoid of drama. Ironic, considering Ferrell plays this “dramatic” role like a finely tuned fiddle. Little smirks, glances, huffs and puffs – all working together seamlessly to make him seem, just, normal. Well, as normal as one can be whilst hearing voices.

Living a life of background noise, Harold becomes hyper aware of a voice in his head that seems to be narrating his life. But not advancing it; only narrating it. I know, I know – another damn narrated flick from me. Lay off; they’re my favorite. Plus, it makes for some pretty interesting character development. Especially since he is not the one developing it. Unbeknownst to Harold, his life is being narrated by acclaimed novelist, Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), known for her profound proclivity for killing her characters in a crafty way. But, he doesn’t know that – yet.

Harold, shaken and incredibly annoyed by these constant interruptions, seeks mental shelter in the figurative arms of literary professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). Hilbert, unlike the shrinks before him, finds Harold incredibly interesting. He cares not though for how Harold feels but more how the narrator feels. What are they like? Are they male? Female? What kind of things do they say about you? How do they feel about your single Windsor tie? In the end, it all comes down to four tiny words: little did he know. Little did he know…what? That he was living a tragedy? That the single Windsor really did make his neck look fat? Or little did he know, the fact he cannot shake the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies might be a sign.

Now, you’re probably like, “whaaaaa? Why chocolate chip cookies? Also, can I take a break and go make chocolate chip cookies?” And yes, yes you absolutely can. But come back quick because I wanna wrap this up so I can go make some for myself.

Harold, caught in the throes of a mental meltdown, decides to take on one of the “easy” audits. He heads out to audit the tax return of one Ana Pascal, an ostensibly harmless baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal). But she’s not in the business of baking up bland muffins. No no no – the kitchen gets hot in a jiff when Harold learns Pascal intentionally underpaid her tax return and plans to make this audit a living-breathing nightmare. However, despite her obvious abhorrence for Harold, he still couldn’t help noticing “her thin arms [and] long, shapely legs…imagining her immersed in a tub, shaving her legs… and he couldn’t help but imagine her naked, stretched across his bed.” Needless to say: she was Crick bait.

I mean, what’s a guy to do? He can’t control himself, and he obviously can’t control his life. So, might as well do your best to live the shit out of what remains, right? Stop counting footsteps, stop going to your literally dead-end job, and stop telling yourself you don’t deserve that guitar, even if you have no idea how to play it. And most importantly, remember that sometimes you have to stop and smell the flours.

At the end of the day, I’m kind of glad Stranger Than Fiction isn’t super well-known or hasn’t been touted as one of the best films of all time. Because on one hand, I would have nothing to write about (haha), but also because it just wouldn’t feel right. This isn’t yet another addition in the onslaught of forgettable Hollywood rom-coms; it’s whatever you want it to be. A reflection of ourselves and the priorities we choose in life. An anthem for those to quietly rally behind. Or for me: an incredibly well-written movie I happened to find surfing my couch on a Sunday. Whatever it is to you, I hope you enjoy it.

TL;DR – an IRS agent finds himself the subject of a deadly narration that begins to affect his entire life, or at least the book he's living in.

Cody Tidmore is a Level Two sketch student at DCH. He’s been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Seeing it all – the good, the bad, even the ugly. And when it comes to annoyingly working movie quotes into regular conversation, he’s the reel deal.