Film Reviews

Stranger Than Fiction: An Existential Rom-Com

A quirky romantic comedy with a dark twist of existential existence. It’s not only funny but a solid story about character development.

Screenshot of Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Harold Crick talks to the literary investigator about the narrator.

The film starts with Harold Crick, an IRS auditor, living his morning routine and starts to hear voices in his head. Particularly, as he describes her “as a well-spoken British woman with a better vocabulary.” One day he hears that he was going to die from the anonymous British voice. He goes on the pursuit to find the narrator to plead not to kill him off believing that the narration is not only real but might come true.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the author, Kay Eiffel, is experiencing writer’s block. The publisher’s head office sent over a corporate secretary, Penny Escher, to help her out with her novel to get the writing process going. After she steps into a brief moment of writing clarity before going back to her writer’s block state, Harold Crick hears that he might die from the narrator in a vague emotionless speech. Harold gets freaked out about what he just heard and goes to a psychiatrist doctor and then a literary investigator, Dr. Jules Hilbert, to find out who is that voice in his head.

Screenshot of Stranger Than Fiction (2006). The writer (Emma Thompson) looking at her hand on the rooftop.
Screenshot of Stranger Than Fiction (2006). The writer looking at her hand on the rooftop.

The film can be dark with images of car accidents, and people jumping off of building tops from the author’s mind mapping out character demise possibilities and the author roams around the town imagining ways of how the character must die with no resolution. The film is a quirky romantic comedy about how to get out of a funk or downturn in life expectations. One person thinks of ways to live while the other is just stuck.

The movie starts with some neat motion graphics in white as infographic illustrations portraying what he is doing only at the beginning of the film. The pictures float around him periodically when he is silently doing something like tying a tie, calculating taxes in a graph and putting away dishes. The graphics look like they could be found in an IKEA tutorial booklet with rounded edges and small illustrations of the object at hand.

Screenshot of Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Harold Crick getting ready for work. Example of the text special effects.
Screenshot of Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Harold Crick getting ready for work. Example of the text special effects.
Screenshot of Stranger Than Fiction (2006). The baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is yelling at the accountant, Harold Crick, about back taxes.
Screenshot of Stranger Than Fiction (2006). The baker, Ana Pascal, is yelling at the IRS auditor, Harold Crick, about back taxes.

The performances were by well-known performers like Will Ferrell, Emily Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Queen Latifah in this film that looks like an independent film but it isn’t. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a time when movie studios were creating films that looked like low-budget indie films but weren’t. It was a way that film studios somewhat tried at something new knowing there was an audience to watch the film – the independent film-goer market. Their performances worked for the understated film filled with very normal characters in a weird situation, not wacky. I don’t think a story like his would have worked if everyone was acting weird and unrelatable. The story was weird enough. Both lead characters played by Will Ferrell and Emily Thompson are depressed and stuck in a rut in life. The two leads work well with each other even though they are not on screen together for 95% of the film.

The direction of the story was like other romantic comedies that hook up in some way with a large declaration of love at some point. The whole direction of the film has a shift of story midway from doom and gloom to a romantic comedy that is seamless because the story is less negative against the main character. The cinematography colours are ordinary despite starting with a motion graphic opening.

The film’s existential themes make the film stands out as an unconventional comedy. The character growth was nice to see but it wasn’t too different from other rom-com that don’t have an existential crisis but have characters with a personality flaw or unseen obstacle standing in between the main character’s way. The film is not that different from other rom-coms but it’s not cheesy or generic (something you have seen before.)


Genre: Romantic Comedy/Fantasy
Year: 2006
Duration: 92 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Three out of five stars

All screenshots are from the film

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