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 buoyant. 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.