This turned out to be much more than the trifling Will Ferrell vehicle I expected. Scriptwriter Zach Helm examines the relationship between writers and their characters in an interesting, almost Kaufmanesque way. (Has Charlie Kaufman written enough screenplays to warrant his own auctorial descriptive? Are we even agreed that auctorial descriptive is the correct term for such literary adjectivizations?) It helps that Emma Thompson, who seems to be channeling a shambolic Peter O’Toole, plays the writer in question. A female Peter O’Toole with serious writer’s block.
Ferrell plays an IRS auditor who hears Thompson’s third-person omniscient voice narrating his life. To his credit, he plays it completely straight even when Dustin Hoffman, a college lit professor, asks him a series of ridiculous questions designed to help him figure out what story he might be in and who might be writing it. Are you the king of anything? King of the lanes at the local bowling alley? King of the lanes, king of the trolls? A clandestine land found underneath your floorboards?
Ferrell’s character weathers the one-two punch of falling for an anarchist baker (played by the brilliant Maggie Gyllenhaal) and finding out that the writer is going to kill him off. There are a few twists before Helm delivers an ending that examines what it means to live versus what it means to truly be alive.
Stranger than Fiction also serves up a feast for the eyes (beyond the afore-mentioned Gyllenhaal). The subtle graphics that show Ferrell’s active OCD are wonderfully realized and add another dimension to his character. Design geeks will want to stay put for the end credits as well.