My favorite genre of film is the character study. It wins that competition hands down. However, the type of film that comes in a close second is mind-binding cerebral films that examine existence and consciousness in all sorts of new and original ways. These are films like Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I love the sort of meta commentary about the narrative structures and escapism of fictional entertainment interspersed within the tales of people who are, in their own universes, real. Thus, it should come as no surprise that I absolutely adore 2006’s genre-bending Stranger than Fiction.

The plot of film is one-parts The Matrix, one-part Adaptation, and one-part American Beauty. That’s a good thing since those are three classic films. Will Ferrell plays IRS agent Howard Crick who, unbeknownst to him til he starts to hear her voice narrating his life story, is a character in the latest book of author Kay Effel (played to perfection by the always brilliant Emma Thompson). Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the obligatory love interest and Dustin Hoffman is a riot as a Literature professor trying to determine what kind of novel Howard is living in. Howard soon discovers that Kay plans on killing him, and thus the film becomes a tale of recapturing life while you still can and also trying to find his author before she can actually kill him.

Emma Thompson was absolutely spectacular in this film. She’s truly one of the great female actresses of her generation, and it’s a shame that she hasn’t gotten a wider exposure to American audiences. She plays the role of Kay, a neurotic, chain-smoking writer with a serious case of writer’s block with such pathos and power that you easily remember why she’s won one acting Oscar and been nominated for two others. Maggie Gyllenhaal also shows why she is the queen of the indie scene. Will Ferrell is surprisingly low-key in this necessarily dramatic role, and it’s a refreshing departure from his constant and grating persona of the man-child.

The films’ major flaw is the ending, which without wanting to ruin anything, is a major puss-0ut on the writer’s part from something that could have been much more beautiful and sincere instead of a ridiculous deus ex machina although at least the film has the decency to lampshade this fact. The idea for the film itself isn’t terribly original. It just picked and chose different themes from other different films, but it had the sense to pick good ones and uses its inspirations well. I like this movie a lot. I really can’t think of anyone that I wouldn’t recommend it to. If you don’t leave the film feeling good about yourself and having had your brain sufficiently stimulated, then we just have different tastes in films.

Final Score: B+

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