By Sonya Rehman
Take a tragic geek (with bouts of OCD), a shiny magical wristwatch (that has a life of its own) and a successful author (who takes great gratification in bumping off her main characters) and what do you get? A film that is a cut above typical ‘family fluff comedies’ in terms of a bizarrely comic plot and excellent actors to boot.
In the film, Ferrell plays a low-key, meticulous IRS agent (Harold Crick) whose life is full of numbers and calculations, disturbingly clean starch white sheets (with everything in its right place) and a compulsive need to brush his teeth a certain number of times. Yes, he’s one of ‘those’ (contently) isolated, highly intelligent individuals who spend their lives functioning like well-oiled machines in demanding, number-crunching jobs – where personal desires, emotional fulfillment and a sense of adventure are completely alien.
The character played by Ferrell is a tragic yet quirkily comic one, just like that of Melvin’s played by Jack Nicholson in ‘As good as it gets’. But Crick is slightly special. For one, he isn’t shrouded by a cloud heavy with caustic thought; neither is he a character who says things that are (unintentionally) hurtful (like Melvin’s). Crick has a poker-faced innocence that is coupled with a (conscious) conviction that his (mechanical) life is fine just the way it is.
And then one morning, Harold hears a woman’s voice which says: “Little did he know that this simple seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death” as he goes about his day. “What? What? Hey! HELLOOO! What? Why? Why MY death? HELLO? Excuse me? WHEN?” Hollers a manically paranoid (now un-poker-faced) Harold at the sky above. The scene is uproarious and sets the tone for what is to follow. Who is this woman with the heavily accented voice? How and why does she keep narrating Harold’s life? If she’s just a narrator for the movie, how can Harold hear her? But he does. Loud and clear. Where Harold goes, the voice follows, what Harold does, the voice simply describes and relates.
And up until now (and till somewhere in the middle of the movie) both Harold and the viewer are shoved into the same boat of bafflement (albeit Harold remains slightly more ‘up the wall’ given it’s his life the woman is narrating!).
The movie deals with a bigger ‘issue’ which is mainly the isolation that one feels in this robotic-high-tech-gadgetry ‘new world’ (of the highly overrated 21st century) that we live in today. And unlike those ‘I was a geek before I realized my dreams, hoo-haa look Ma’ flicks, ‘Stranger than fiction’ is digestible due to its fantasy (“this may sound like gibberish to you, but I think I’m in a tragedy”) elements and humorous (“yes, I’m relieved to know that I am not a golem”) exposé of each character.
For those of you who may have enjoyed films such as ‘Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind’, ‘Lucia’, ‘The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy’ and ‘Magnolia’, ‘Stranger than fiction’ is the modern, class-A fantasy/comedy of the year.
Instep, The News