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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

counting down the best films of 2006: No. 4, ‘Stranger Than Fiction’

WHY IS THIS ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR?: The remarkable combination of intense, intricate intellectualism and warm, grounded human emotion is so rare, and cause for celebration when it comes along. I can’t remember the last time I was so deeply affected by a film that so tickled my brain.

BUT IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! HOW COULD SOMEONE BE A FICTIONAL CHARACTER AND A REAL PERSON AT THE SAME TIME? All movies are fantasy — some engage the fantastical more than others. What sets this one apart is that it does not belabor its fantastical elements by trying to explain them rationally; instead it lets them float along on their own preposterousness, and that keeps the film bouyant. This isn’t a story about reason and fact — this isn’t, say, a murder mystery that turns on some point of CSI forensics. This is, for all its brainy ticklishness, about the heart, about how the things we feel and the people we love are what makes life worth living. That the film does not also dismiss the intellectual is what makes it unique. Our culture has set up reason and feeling as dichotomies, as opposites that cannot sit together, when everyone who values both knows that this is certainly not true. This film reintegrates the two, beautifully.
HAS WILL FERRELL GONE SOFT? Gosh, I hope so. I can’t stand him in those slapstick, juvenile flicks (he was also delightful in the indie Winter Passing, from early 2006), but here, he embodied a sweet everyman lunkishness that made Harold — half fictional character, half real person — a metaphor for us all until that moment when we discover what we really, truly want our lives to be.

[Check out my full review of Stranger Than Fiction here.]

[See the whole best-of list for 2006 here.]

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  • Yes, I liked this movie, too, though I have to admit that it was my girlfriend’s idea to go see it. (And even then that was because it was one of the first movies at a local second-run theatre that we hadn’t seen already.)

    It may indeed be Charles Kaufman lite–as one critic suggested (though Emma Thompson’s performance kept reminding me of the Bernard Black character in the “Black Books” series for some reason)–but it’s still better than some of the more commercial movies Ferrell has done.

    And yes, I liked “Winter Passing” too. Though I originally saw that for Ms. Deschanel–and because I’m evil…:-)

  • Fuggle

    Out of curiosity, what do you think of the ending?

    Is anything gained on some level, either right at the plot, or some meta level (in light of the professor’s judgement of one ending against the other), by the “happy” ending; or would the movie be better or worse with the “real” ending?

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