Stranger than Fiction – DVD Review

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Michael Keusch


Will Ferrell ………. Harold Crick
Maggie Gyllenhaal ………. Ana Pascal
Dustin Hoffman ………. Professor Jules Hilbert
Queen Latifah ………. Penny Escher
Emma Thompson ………. Karen Eiffel

The Movie

Will Ferrell may already have been one of the top comedians working in Hollywood going into 2006, but the year turned out to be one of escalating quality for him. He received rave reviews for his dramatic turn in Winter Passing and had a smash hit with Talladega Nights. Going into the winter, he topped both those efforts with a film that garnered talk of a possible Oscar nomination for the actor in his turn as Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction.

Crick is an IRS auditor who begins to hear voices in his head. Unlike the usual sorts of voices that demand him to kill a whole bunch of people, his voice is narrating his life. Trying to figure out whether he’s crazy or not, he consults a psychiatrist who wants to give him pills. He then consults with an English professor (Dustin Hoffman) who thinks he could be in a tragedy or a comedy, imploring him to figure out which. Figuring out that the voice in his head is famous author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), whose current fiction book has somehow become Harold’s real life.

And in an Oscar season that is normally dominated by end of the year blockbusters and dramatic films vying to be nominated for an Academy Award, Stranger than Fiction was a revelation if only because it was so different than anything else out there. Quirky comedies are usually things that come out in the summer to limited fanfare and hit DVD shelves in the winter, as opposed to debuting outside the films that will comprise the bulk of awards season. But Stranger than Fiction has another thing going for it besides its quirky differences with films from the time of its release.

It’s a great film, too. While there are some jokes that don’t work nearly as well as others, and sometimes the film gets a bit held up with subplots on occasion, it’s a wonderful cinematic experience that serves as both as showcase for Ferrell as well as contains yet another great Maggie Gyllenhaal performance in 2006.

What makes the film great comes from is great cast and better screenplay. Focused on two separate storylines that converge at the end, Michael Keusch has the advantage of having a very good screenplay to work with. Focusing on Harold’s attempts at trying to figure everything out while exploring the things his solitary life has left him devoid of, Keusch also has to balance out the other half of it as Karen struggles to finish up her book with assistant Penny (Queen Latifah). On top of all of this there’s the story of Harold’s auditing of the bakeshop of Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the rather unorthodox relationship that springs out of it. It’s written so well that Keusch doesn’t have to do much to make it a good story from a storyline standpoint but he has enough in him to keep a good, crisp pace and let a talented cast do what they do best.

And while Ferrell is the one who got a Golden Globe nomination, it’s Maggie Gyllenhaal who turns in the best performance of a film filled with plenty of good ones. Ana Pascal in the beginning is a very angry individual towards Harold as he audits her store, but as the film progresses their experiences with one another change her attitude and her heart. But it’s not a change that one would expect out of a third rate romantic comedy; it’s a nuanced performance from an actress expert at providing them. Ferrell is equal to the task, brining out some terrific comedic moments by his facial expression alone. Even Dustin Hoffman contributes as the wacky English professor in another quality supporting performance in a seemingly growing long line of them.

Stranger than Fiction may have been over-looked by the Academy for any awards, but when the years go by people will remember that it was one of the best films of the year.

The Audio

Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format, Stranger than Fiction sounds wonderful. The DVD takes full advantage of the format, separating the sound clearly and cleanly. It is a dialogue-focused film, and as such the dialogue comes through loud and clear, but the film’s scoring and music manage to come through terrifically as well.

The Video

Presented in an anamorphic widescreen format with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film looks as good as it sounds. The city of Chicago looks great as the colors come through well, with terrific separation and no bleeding.

The Extras

Six featurettes are provided on the Stranger than Fiction DVD. Actors in Search of a Story deals with finding the actors and why they were placed in their specific roles. With the principles being the #1 choice of the production staff, this feature is an EPK style feature that really doesn’t add anything to understanding the movie. While what they are saying is rather genuine, as they are being candid in how wonderful everything was, there’s a lot of the usual “everything was great, nothing ever was bad” in it and it takes away from some of the better moments like Ferrell talking about how much he enjoyed working with Hoffman for two weeks and that he wanted to work with him for a longer period of time on this film. Emma Thompson and Queen Latifah exchange humorous barbs about one another as well, another highlight of the feature. Building the Team focuses on the assembly of the people behind the film, starting with the story behind how they were able to get Keusch to direct the film. Keusch then discusses about how he assembled his team of people that he’s been with for some time.

On Location in Chicago is a feature that focuses on why they chose to shoot the film in Chicago. Keusch liked Chicago because of its architectural styles as well as the ability to have everything be located nearby. Zach Helm, the screenwriter, based the city in the film on Chicago based on his own experiences going to college in the city itself. Words on a Page focuses on the story itself, focusing on how the cast and crew were going to be able to craft the story they pictures into a full length screenplay. Helm pictures it as a 1970s style comedy in the vane of a Woody Allen film from the same period. Picture a Number: The Evolution of G.U.I takes a look at the CGI work done to help enhance the experience of Harold Crick’s world of numbers, angles, and the breakdown of the world visually through his eyes. It’s a fascinating look at the work done for the film, as the crew and Keusch talk about the specifics of how they wanted it to look and feel for the film.

On the Set is the DVD’s last featurette and a montage of shots from on the se of the movie set to a techno beat. There are also two Deleted/extended Scenes from the Book Channel interview of Karen Eiffel, neither of which added back would’ve done much for the film. There are Previews included as well.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Stranger than Fiction
(OUT OF 10)