MOVIE REVIEW: Stranger Than Fiction
OK, I apologize sincerely for being a lazy sod, and posting so damn infrequently. It's not that I don't have anything to say; rather, it's more like I don't have a) enough to say that I find interesting within the unofficial music/entertainment focus I've grafted onto this blog, and b) don't find myself making enough time to commit the few interesting things I do have to say down onto this page. In fact, I'm procrastinating from drudgery work this very second to impart this article to you. I could give you a thousand and one excuses, but they don't matter.
What does matter is that I just saw a movie which I really gotta endorse to you, the faithful reader. Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhall (along with the man-who-can-do-no-wrong Dustin Hoffman, the intriguingly delightful Emma Thompson, the classy and attractive Queen Latifah, and truly tasteful music from Air's Brian Reitzell and Spoon's Britt Daniel) star in the new-to-DVD movie Stranger Than Fiction. Its title is a wonderful song from Joe Jackson on his Laughter & Lust album, which has the wonderful lyric: "And life goes on, ever immune to prediction / And life can be strange, but love can be stranger than fiction". True words from Mr. David Ian Jackson of Burton-upon-Trent, and a faultlessly wonderful song. I do not know to what extent Marc Forster drew his inspiration from Joe Jackson's song, but that doesn't matter either.
The film's concept is a bit of a tightrope walk to execute; in the wrong hands, you could be stuck with a heartbreakingly lost opportunity. The story is simple; an anonymous I.R.S. auditor who lives his life through mind-numbing repetition and quantified occurrences all of a sudden hears the inner monologue of a British author, who tips him off that he's going to die. Or at least his character is. But he is the character, since this narrator knows too much to be accidental. With a concept this ambitious, the two tragic extremes which could have sunk the story are: the writer tries too hard, gets way too deep into the minutiae and sci-fi elements until they capsize the tale (think Back To The Future part II). Or it could have squandered such a promising premise by turning the film into just another saccharine smarm-fest. Fortunately, Zach Helm (the screenwriter) has navigated the narrow channel between Scylla and Charybdis, and strikes a wonderful balance. It's a really nice blend of both comedy and drama. Yes, there are portions that are high-concept, but the events which unfold don't feel forced or contrived. As Will Ferrell's character (played with admirable restraint and excellent taste) seeks out his answers, life sort of just happens to him in the meanwhile. Maggie Gyllenhall (who I'd never seen before, and whose character is almost similar to the character of Jill Layton in Brazil) is a treat, but like Queen Latifah, Gyllenhall doesn't have as deep of a character to sink her teeth into as Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, and Dustin Hoffman have. But that doesn't matter; both actors put in good work.
Smack dab in the middle of this film, Will Ferrell starts singing Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World", which shocked the hell out of me. Wreckless Eric????!?!?!!!? At that point, I cottoned to the fact that any movie which uses such a relatively obscure (in the States, at least) cut in such a crucial scene is a hell of a lot hipper than your average Will Ferrell movie. A movie I was already enjoying got that much cooler, and I watched (and listened!) on intrigued. Sure enough, songs by Spoon, The Jam (!), The Clash, and Adolescents (among others) populate the movie's sonic sphere.
And possibly the best bonus point? It was filmed 100% on location in my favorite city in the world, the one by the lake. More importantly, the I.R.S. office scenes were filmed in the office building of one of my former employers (and my wife's current employer). Too fucking cool. I looked at those scenes again, and said, "Yep, I recognize those elevators!".
For as many low brow films as there are in Will Ferrell's catalog (and there are so many...), it's cool to see him not chew on the scenery for once, play a restrained role in an intelligent film. It's great to see Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson continue to take chances in their careers. It was a pleasure to see Maggie Gyllenhall. And it was such a thrill to see my hometown cast in such a great light. Chicago isn't used as a big prop, like it is in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It isn't used as a demolition derby, like in The Blues Brothers. In this little film, it isn't even referred to by name. If you aren't familiar with the landmarks, you theoretically might not know it's Chicago until you see the big red building, the Picasso, and the Wrigley building later on in the film. (I caught a glaring continuity error; Will Ferrell's character Harold is in the C N A building, but as he exits said building, he's exiting in the Richard J. Daley plaza. Whoah! How does he do that?? There's at least six city blocks between the two buildings!!) Yet, despite the initial relative anonymity afforded to it, Chicago looks wonderful in this movie.
This movie isn't by any means a film as important as, say, Citizen Kane. But it doesn't strive to be. Neither should it be dismissed; it's a thoroughly enjoyable film: intelligent and hip without being contrived or too self-aware. I definitely recommend it.
Odds and Ends:
- For a long time, I have been hankering to see two rare rock cinema classics, and now I'm really excited to tell you that I own relatively competent copies of both films. I promise to review both the Rolling Stones' Cocksucker Blues and Tom Waits' Big Time as soon as I get the chance to get really familiar with both of them.
- Keep your fingers crossed, but I might be getting another article/review in Glorious Noise relatively soon. This one should be a good one.
- Finally, I just bought my own Father's Day present. What this means is that I'm not gonna be able to enjoy it until mid-June, but that I know that I've finally obtained a box set I've been lusting after for years. More to come.
Keep on me folks; encourage me to write more if you enjoy this kind of drivel. I have to say, despite its infrequency, I do enjoy writing it.