I love movies about the writing life. My favorites have been Finding Forrester, with Sean Connery as the grumpy, reclusive writer, and Wonder Boys, starring Michael Douglas, a professor of literature who has a thousand page manuscript he can't finish.
After this weekend, I have one more movie to add to my favorites list.
In Stranger than Fiction, Harold Crick is a solitary drone of an IRS agent whose carefully controlled life is turned upside down when he begins to hear a female voice narrating his every action, thought, and feeling in alarmingly precise detail. If that isn't bad enough, when the voice declares he's facing imminent death, Harold realizes that, as impossible as it sounds, he's a character in a novel. So, now he must find out who's writing his story and convince her to change the ending.
The voice in Harold's head turns out to be novelist Karen "Kay" Eiffel, brilliantly played by Emma Thompson, who's been suffering writer's block for the past ten years, trying to figure out the best way to kill Harold. Eiffel has garnered fame in the past for always killing her characters just when they have the most to live for.
Desperate to avoid an untimely demise, Harold seeks help from a literary professor (Dustin Hoffman in a wonderfully subtle performance) who tells Harold that he needs to figure out whether or not he's in a comedy or a tragedy.
Is Harold in a tragedy? Or a comedy? Will the narrator kill him? Or can he find her and convince her to let him live?
Even if it'll mean giving up on what Hoffman describes as her potential masterpiece?
For those of you who don't think you like Will Ferrell (who plays Harold), ignore your preconceptions from SNL or some silly comedies. He plays the role in an understated, Everyman performance that had me thinking the part would've, in the 40s or 50s, been played by Jimmy Stewart. Or more recently, Jeff Daniels. Maggie Gyllenhall is also marvelous as the anarchist baker he's assigned to audit, and if I have any quibble with the film, it was that I kept wondering how long it took to paint that tattoo on her every day before filming.
This movie will make you laugh, make you cry (and yes, that's a cliche, and I don't often use it), and you and whatever significant other you have in your life -- whether husband, lover, sibling, best friend, whatever, that special person you trust enough to share your writers' angst with -- will so identify. And hey, what a relief to see a novelist, even a fictional one, more neurotic than I can get when faced with the inevitable writer's roadblock.
As we walked out of the theater, my sweetie said to me, "Well, you're not as bad as her." I decided to take that as a compliment.