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4.3 out of 5 stars
Stranger Than Fiction
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136 of 147 people found the following review helpful
The idea of "Stranger Than Fiction" appealed to me the moment I first heard of it. Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell, wakes up one day and hears a voice. An omniscient narrator is relating his life with precision and no one can hear that voice but himself. It turns out that the voice is Emma Thompson, playing a famed author who is actually writing a novel about a character named Harold Crick. And it's the same Harold Crick. What is being put down in fiction is also concurrently happening in real life. It's a tricky concept, one that I felt might be impossible to pull off effectively. Well, not only does "Stranger Than Fiction" pull it off--it succeeds grandly as a surprisingly thoughtful, amusing, and moving contemplation of life. For Harold must immediately confront his mortality when the narrator informs him/us that he will soon die!

The complicated narrative of the film is pulled off brilliantly. The overlapping structure necessary to maintain the momentum and cohesion of the film must be attributed to a clever, intricate screenplay. Literate, witty, and real--it's a real treat. Lots of interesting effects help to pull the two worlds together making even the most mundane moments of Harold's life visually compelling. The movie's construction is fascinating and enjoyable.

Will Ferrell reins in his typical "overgrown kid" persona, and plays Harold as a real guy. It's refreshing and while I've never considered him a leading man type--his tentative romance with Maggie Gyllenhaal (while a bit of a stretch) is played very credibly and sweetly. Dustin Hoffman, as a literature professor helping Harold discover what book he's in, is having a great time. But it's Emma Thompson that stole my heart. As the author, she is a complete neurotic mess--but as she begins to realize what is happening, something in her transforms. Her character provides much of the film's insight and it's most powerfully dramatic acting. It's a deft balancing act, and as usual--she hit all the right marks.

After a near perfect movie, we have to bring both stories of Harold to an end. The movie turns into a poignant examination of sacrifice. If Thompson kills Harold in her novel, it will be recognized as a great piece of literature. If she lets him live, the novel will be just another routine bit of entertainment. This art versus commercialism angle is absolutely enthralling, and also surprising since it is raised so late in the film. There are moments of real power as everyone faces important life decisions--but these aren't false "lessons," they are genuine emotion that the film has subtly earned.

Ultimately, the ending is exactly what the film wants it to be. While I didn't find it the most satisfying choice--it is perfect for the movie because by this point the film itself is mirroring the novel within the film. It's a clever bit of trickery and very unusual. I admired "Stranger Than Fiction" very much and would give it 4 1/2 stars as an original and intelligent treat. KGHarris, 11/06.
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62 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2006
A disclaimer: I've got a high tolerance for quirky and this film certainly qualifies as such. I loved it, but I love quirky films a lot more than the mainstream moviegoer.

I went to see this movie on a whim and so I didn't quite know what I was getting into. But a few minutes into it I just KNEW that it was going to be one of my favorites. And, indeed, it is one of the best films I've seen in the theater in a while. I smiled throughout the whole of it.

The story is new. The characters are engaging. And the plot is so very random that it just works.

Now I'm one of those people who ALWAYS questions the logistics of say *time travel* and/or *magic doorways* but this film was so very charming that I wasn't bothered by how incredibly non-sensical it seems: an author *creates* Will Ferrell's character and can decide if he lives or dies with her *typewriter*?

Oy.

The fact of the matter is, it's a fairy tale of sorts for a new and modern society. It's filmed in such an aesthetically astute manner. The actors are at their very best and most endearing. And the writing is wholly engaging.

It's NOT your typical Will Ferrell movie and if you go into it expecting fart jokes and prat falls, you'll be disappointed. But if you go into it with an open mind and a receptive heart, I imagine you'll be quite touched by the ideas it's trying to negotiate in its sweet and clumsy way.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
I loved this movie. It is funny and odd, but it has a lot of heart to it. The writing is so good that my friends and I thought at first that it must be adapted from a larger work, such as a book. The characters are that well crafted and the story that unique. These are not things most comedies bother with at present. Now, I'm calling this a comedy, but it will pull on your emotions a bit. Its all worth it though. The acting is great, which is not unexpected given the cast. If you love movies and are looking for something kind of different and original this is a good way to go. A really fun film to watch.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2006
"Stranger than Fiction" opened the 42nd Annual Chicago International Film Festival. Dustin Hoffman, who plays one of the central characters in the film, was presented with the festival's Career Achievement Award and Will Ferrell participated in the ceremony. This highly clever literary/cinematic dramady is about a writer of tragedy novels who struggles with how to end her latest. As Kay Eiffel, played by Emma Thompson, imagines how to kill off her main character, her thoughts are in some way transmitted to a real man whose actual life is exactly the same as the character in the novel. Sound Trippy? Well it is; talk about being connected to your character! Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, the main character. Harold consults with a therapist for help, unsure if he's going crazy hearing the voice of a woman literally narrate his life. Unconvinced of the therapist's diagnosis, he is referred to Dr. Jules Hilbert, played by Dustin Hoffman, for further analysis. As the novel and Harold's life unfolds, Harold finds himself in a literally literary struggle to have a life by saving his life.

This film works on so many levels. First, it is a skillful display of the writing process and the importance of knowing your character - literally getting in his head. The film also displays the often talked about attachment that writers can have to their characters even though that attachment could cloud the creative process necessary to finish the novel. Skillful writers are able to create characters that are so real and believable that killing them is nearly impossible. Is it the characters that drive a good story or are they subordinate to the story that they serve?

Stranger than Fiction is smart, funny, and thought provoking; I hope that this artsy release enjoys a wide viewing audience. There's as much in it for literary types and there is for film lovers and if you're both, well you're in for an extra special treat. I can usually predict the likelihood of Oscar nominations and awards for films in the festival with a high degree of accuracy. While "Stranger than Fiction doesn't" have "Oscar written all over it", it should get a nod in the original screen play category. I'm highly recommending this one. Enjoy!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2007
...was one of the best movie-going experiences I ever had. My husband and I went to see it one Saturday back in last December on the 14:15 (2:15 PM) show and we had the small, comfortable, stadium-like theater all to ourselves. I was delighted but my husband gave me a suspicious look before the movie began and asked if I was sure that was the movie I wanted to see. I was sure - I've seen the trailer several times and I loved the idea the movie was based on: an IRS employee, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell has proved admirably to be able to play serious roles) leads the ordered, quite boring full of numbers and digits life only one morning to realize that he is somehow happened to be a main character in a new novel from famous, neurotic, reclusive, chain smoking author Karen Eiffel (great, great Emma Thompson) who always murders her main characters on the last page of her books. He begins hearing a voice in his head that narrates over his life and tells exactly what just happened to him. Where would you go first? To a psychiatrist, of course. What would he (in this movie, she, Linda Hunt, memorable in a tiny cameo) say? "You have to be medicated" but she also advises Harold to seek assistance from the literature expert. Enters Dr. Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman, always reliable, always delight to watch) who would help Harold to determine whether he is in a comedy or a tragedy and whether he would be able to avoid an inevitable tragic end of the book. While figuring out if he is in a comedy or a tragedy, Harold meets a free spirited baker with the Harward Law background named Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal lights up the screen in her every scene) who did not pay a portion of her taxes in purpose and now is a subject for auditing. Harold's life changes, he is not ready to go but the voice sounds in his head and his only chance to avoid the book's final is to meet with Karen and to beg her to reconsider. There is a problem, you see - Karen is impossible to find - she never meets with the readers or replies to the phone calls or letters...

Little did I know how much I would like the movie and how much I would care about its characters. The movie makers are the brave and creative people not only because they chose as the subject the exploration of Author and his character relationship. It's been done before and not only by Charley Kauffman whose name has been mentioned by many commenters. The subject of Creator and his creature, the writer and the heroes of his books, the man and his shadow that one day would refuse to follow its master would go as far as the ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. No, I admire the filmmakers because they were brave enough to make their main character an IRS guy and to make him sympathetic and compelling. Believe it or not, the movie made me smile and cry at the same time and there were the moments that I could not figure out where it would go and I liked the feeling. I don't know if "Stranger than Fiction" is the best movie of 2006 but it is certainly the best I've seen so far and it saddens me that it was criminally overlooked during the awards season.

...As much as I enjoyed being in the theater with my husband only, I truly wish more viewers saw "Stranger than Fiction" because it is a clever, funny yet moving picture - they don't come like that very often.

4.5/5
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2006
This is a movie about an author's choices, and how they effect her life and the lives of those around her. The casting is perfect. The tone of each acting performance is sublime. The plot is not intended to amaze as much as it is intended to inspire. The title to this review is a quote by Maggie Gyllenhaal's character, Ann Pascal, who attended Harvard Law School, but realized she was appreciated as a baker, and decided her life's work would be tweaking great recipes and fashioning pleasing baked goods.

Will Ferrell plays Harold Click, an ordinary, unremarkable person. Ferrell plays the role straight, unlike the other "type" roles he has been associated with. He never winks at the camera or breaks character, and he never goes for the "cute" or "sappy." He proves his acting chops and shows his amazing intelligence to imbue a character with pathos.

"Harold, you miss the point. The intent is to break the rules," Ann tells Harold, after he innocently suggests to her a way she can use a loophole to avoid breaking the tax laws she is intentionally protesting. Harold knows her design and intent, but he still wants to keep her out of harm's way. He knows he is making decisions that will lead to his death a few hours later, and he chooses to spend his final hours trying to help her, an innocent boy, and another friend from work in the best ways he can think of.

The movie asks questions like: If you knew you had to die in order save another person's life, would you? If you knew you were not going to live for very long, would you treat anyone around you differently? And if "greatness" required you to write a good person out of your story, would you?

Emma Thompson's character, Kay Eiffel, is extraordinarily talented and has always been able to write beautiful tragic novels. But her ability to craft tragedies becomes more difficult as she gets older and learns more about her characters and the characters around her. She struggles with whether she still wants to craft her tragedies, or whether she will break the rules in order to avoid them.

Some people are like Harold Crick. They are not extremely talented and they don't control major parts of their own fate. But even when they know their ending will likely be tragic, they do what they can do, and they bring assorted flours to people who can create, can bake, are talented, and have the ability to change the world.

Roger Ebert wrote an excellent review, as always, of this movie (3.5 stars), titled "Who's telling your life story?" I respect that as Roger Ebert has battled serious, life-threatening illness, he has placed higher priority on his life's work, writing quality film reviews, than on appearing on television. I love Roger Ebert. He cares about movies, ideas, and thoughtful criticism. He puts his time and heart where his long term, universal focuses are. He says that "Such an uncommonly intelligent film does not often get made. It could have pumped up its emotion to blockbuster level, but that would be false to the premise, which requires us to enter the lives of these specific quiet, sweet, worthy people."
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2007
Format: DVD
If somebody really had to die in order for the world to have HAMLET, would it be worth it? In STRANGER THAN FICTION, an author realizes to her horror that her leading character is a real man leading a real life, and if she kills off his character in her book, he will really die. If he dies, the book will be a masterpiece. If she changes the ending so that he lives, the book will only be "okay". Which would you choose?
I was surprised by STRANGER THAN FICTION. I only knew Will Ferrell from the over-the-top performances that are his trademark; I was delighted that he is also capable of a toned-down, thoughtful performance. Emma Thompson is always great--her reaction when she discovers that her character is real is exactly right. Dustin Hoffman is excellent as the nice-guy professor with an edge. He really believes that the book is worth the life of the man standing right in front of him.
STRANGER THAN FICTION is rapidly becoming one of my favorite movies. I bought it two weeks ago and have watched it three times. Each time I notice more and more of the subtle touches the director brought to the film. I highly recommend it to anybody who prefers a little thought with their comedy.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2007
Format: DVD
I am not a fan of little movies that have a weak plot and clobber you over the head with a message, which I assumed this movie would be. However, I am a fan of Emma Thompson and Queen Latifah. The strange thing is (no pun intended), while they are both as good as ever, the actor who is stunning is Will Ferrell. He pulls you in almost immediately and you follow along because you care about him (and 'watch', lest we forget). I don't think this movie would work at all without him or that anyone else I can think of could have played Harold. (DON'T READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS MOVIE.) That said, I also have to disagree with the reviewers who have had a problem with the ending. The ending is exactly right because everyone's priorities finally get straightened out and because the ending fits with the point of the story. The ending is the message. I loved it, watched it immediately a second time to notice things I'd missed the first time and will buy a copy to keep.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2007
Format: DVD
Whar a marvelous little movie! It's literate and thoughtful: a dangerous cobination for Hollywood box office returns. Similar to "Little Miss Sunshine," it doesn't go into any preconceived directions. We think we know where it's headed but we don't.

Emma Thompson looks absolutely awful--and that's a compliment! She's not afraid to go without makeup and take on the character's ragged appearance. I loved the scenes between Dustin Hoffman and Farrell.

Sometimes the smartest people just get it all wrong.

My guess is that Will Farrell's name was enough to keep many people away from this movie.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
Stranger Than Fiction is not your typical candidate for a Blu-ray disc because it lacks the sweeping scenery, action sequences, and special effects of most Blu-rays. However, the clarity in Blu-Ray is always superior to regular DVDs, so, if you want to fully utilize your Blu-ray player with a non-action film and don't mind the extra price, this version may be for you.

This surprisingly sweet, witty film poses questions about fate and sacrifice while playfully touching on literary topics. But if this were all this film was, it would be a bore. Instead, screenwriter Zack Helm gives us characters we care about deeply. Will Ferrell as Harold Crick turns in a marvelous performance that combines his usual bewildered, semi-clueless persona with depth and passion - a man confronted with the realization that his life may not be his own.

When Harold Crick, an auditor for the IRS, starts hearing his life narrated by a calm, female British voice, it drives him crazy, but the real crisis begins when he hears the words "Little did he know . . . ." Harold plunges into a quest to discover what this voice means and to steer his mundane life into something more rewarding. He falls in love with the heavily tattooed, rebellious baker he is auditing (Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ana Pascal) and tries to solve the mystery of the voice with English professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a man more interested in the literary implications of Harold's situation than in the personal stakes. The film alternates between Harold's dilemma and that of chain-smoking novelist Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), the voice in Harold's head who is on a desperate quest to overcome writer's block.

Not a single actor is miscast in this metafictive exploration of writing, character, motivation, self-sacrifice, and passion. Although it's not clear why a man like Harold would be attracted to a woman like Ana, their chemistry makes the bizarre pairing work. Queen Latifah as Eiffel's calm assistant Penny balances Thompson's character's trembling near-insanity.

Except for BD Live, the extras are the same as those on the standard DVD version. Although I'm not generally a fan of special features, a few are worth noting: "Words on a Page," an interview with Helm and producer Lindsay Doran; and "Actors in Search of a Story," directer Marc Forster's analysis of the role of character in the story. Outtakes and deleted scenes are only marginally interesting.

The most amazing part of this film is the comedic overtones despite the heavy issues it addresses. The laugh-out-loud moments come one after another, and they serve to deepen our emotional involvement with the plot. I expected so little of this film, and was rewarded with much more than I thought possible.

For another humorous, though more difficult, film about the writing process and predestination, check out Adaptation (Superbit Collection).

-- Debbie Lee Wesselmann
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