**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson
screenplay by Zach Helm
directed by Marc Forster
by Walter Chaw Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a thinly-sketched IRS agent who obsessively measures out his life in coffee spoons. One day he hears the stentorian, patrician voice of his own personal narrator, reclusive author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), providing him an interiority with Douglas Adams-like serendipitous surreality. Marc Forster's Stranger than Fiction even winks at the Adams connection with a sentient wristwatch and a moment where Crick's apartment gets demolished, Arthur Dent-like, by an uncommunicated work order. It also features sudden, unexpected love at the end of the universe with Crick's opposite, a free spirit baker named Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who falls under the eye of Crick's glum audit and, as literature professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) informs Crick, only hates him until she loves him if Crick's narrator is writing a romantic comedy. The struggle within the film is the same as the struggle without, then, as Crick tries to determine whether or not Eiffel's calm (and, as it happens, excellently-written) exposition will result in his poignant death or--good for him, bad for us--in his resurrection as a bland, non-descript leading man in another piece too frightened to allow itself the most appropriate ending. One way leads to a surprise masterpiece that soars on the chemistry (surprise again) between Ferrell and Gyllenhaal--the other leads to a film that's a lot better than I expected it to be, weighed down by a resolution that it itself comments on as equivocal, cowardly, and disappointing. To crib the analysis of Prof. Hilbert, Stranger than Fiction is just "okay."