3.25.2007

Stranger than Fiction

"Everyone thinks about leaping off a building."

Seriously...

Why did nobody tell me about this movie?

Oh, of course I read the generally positive (though rarely elated) reviews. Sure, I knew it was a movie I would like. But how come nobody ever came up to me and said "Dude, you have GOT to see this movie."

See. the reason I hadn't seen it so far is that I thought it would be, well, ok. Kaufman-lite, as it's been called. Fun, but ultimately dismissable. I thought it would be one of those movies that would be exactly as I expected it to be. Like The Queeni was, not too long ago: I knew I'd like the movie, and I did, but it failed to surprise me.

So, I re-iterate, how come nobody told me this was one of the most charming, unassuming, heartbreakingly funny and above all literary movies of the past year? It might not quite be up there with The Science of Sleep, but it's definitely high up on the list. And that's not just because I think I might have a crush on Harold Crick.

Oh, it's not that I don't see the problems with the film. It's not a film you can figure out for example: it might be trippy, but there's no hidden explanation anywhere, what you see is what you get: Harold's life is being narrated to him. And that means there is no explanation as to how Harold and his author can be on the same plane of existence. But does there need to be? Emma Thompson's Karen Eiffel wonders at some point how many people she killed, and I actually feel the question is best left unanswered.

Another, potentially more serious, problem is that while the narration is funny and dry and relatively well written, there is nothing to sustain the claim that the book being written could become a masterpiece. And you can wonder: is the story actually interesting WITHOUT Harold hearing the narration?

The answer to that question might be a clue to why this movie charmed me so. Because while the outline of Harold's story (man wakes up, throws his life around) is rather boring and corny, the details are perfect. The narration fades to the background at some point to allow the courtship between Harold and anarchist baker Ana (the wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal), and it's worth watching because it's so pitch perfect, from the gift Harold gives her (and if you haven't been spoiled yet, I'd be the last to do it) to the way they undress each other.

Then there's the humor. How come there aren't more movies that mix absurdist jokes ("Aren't you relieved to know you're not a golem?") with literary ones that actually, well, assume a certain level of intelligence and general knowledge from the audience? I heart huckabees comes to mind (although, considering some things that recently popped up on youtube, I doubt I would have wanted to be part of THAT particular creative process). Everything by Wes Anderson certainly qualifies, and Wonder Boys definitely does, but they are certainly few and far between

Finally, it's so rare to find a movie where the main character can be laughed at, but is never ridiculed or looked down upon. It would have been so easy to make Harold a laughingstock, but even if he starts out as little more than a bag of tics, he quickly becomes a full-fledged character we can, and do, care for, and care about. He inspires pathos, but he never is pathetic.

It's probably a good thing I went into this film with low expectations, and by hyping it so much I might actually be doing it a disservice. But to hell with it. This movie made my day, and deserves to be seen.

1 comment:

M said...

> And you can wonder: is the story actually interesting WITHOUT Harold hearing the narration?

Well, my experience was that the movie just falls flat without the narration (and Harold freaking out over it) and becomes just your average romance movie. The unlikely relationship between Harold and Ana even seems forced onto Harold by the narration, to the point where he just starts talking to her because the narrator tells him to.
I turned off the movie about halfway through, when there hadn't been any narration for over half an hour.