"Stranger Than Fiction" is probably the best attempt by a comedian to cross-over to a more dramatic feature in quite a while. Will Ferrell is still funny here (one is reminded of the "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry tries to be unfunny and still gets a laugh), but he creates such a rich, likable character here that he truly proves he's capable of more than just getting laughs.
"Stranger" stars Ferrell as Harold Crick, an IRS agent and everyguy who lives alone and goes about his life guided by numbers and routine. One day, while brushing his teeth, he starts hearing a voice - soft, British - who appears to be telling him exactly what is currently going on in his life. Crick also meets Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an anarchist baker who Crick is auditing. While she nearly throws him out of her store at first, she eventually softens after a few more meetings.
However, while Harold's initial discussions with his co-workers about hearing a voice get him sent to a shrink, Harold's search for the source of the voice becomes much more urgent when he hears that the narrator is planning Harold's end. Thinking that he's a fictional character in someone else's story, Harold seeks out the advice of Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a literary scholar who, after his initial disbelief, tries to track down who the author could be. Meanwhile, author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) has hired an assistant (Queen Latifah) in order to try and help her end the story of one Harold Crick.
While Gyllenhaal and Ferrell don't exactly seem like an exact match, the two of them really create a wonderful little romance here, as both have a soft, warm chemistry with one another. Their scenes together are tender and genuinely emotional at times. Gyllenhaal also does a marvelous job of portraying the character's change from the character's abrasive first moments to sweetness and caring. Ferrell is very subtle, but still very funny at times.
"Stranger Than Fiction" doesn't wrap up its plot without leaving some loose ends, but the picture's clever plot does keep the viewer hooked and explores some interesting themes in a way that's thoughtful and heartfelt. Additionally, the characters are wonderfully developed and engaging. The performances are terrific and the movie does a fantastic job of mixing smart comedy with some very touching moments. One of the best of 2006.
VIDEO: "Stranger Than Fiction" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation was terrific, as sharpness and detail were superb throughout the show, showing off the Chicago (I always thought that someone should shoot a scene in the accordion-like middle of a Chicago bus, although I think they're not like that anymore - although that's not really here nor there, I guess) locations well.
Aside from some slight edge enhancement, the picture appeared clean and clear, with no artifacting, print flaws or other issues. The film's color palette remained a bit subdued, but appeared accurately presented. Flesh tones also looked natural. Overall, this was a fine presentation.
SOUND: "Stranger Than Fiction" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound mix is, as one might expect, quite straightforward, with very little in the way of surround use. Audio quality remained pleasing, with clear dialogue and a crisp, well-recorded score.
EXTRAS: "On Location in Chicago" is a 10-minute featurette where the crew discusses what it was like to film in Chicago and their reason for chosing the city and specific locations. "The Evolution of a G.U.I" is a detailed 17-minute look at the development of the film's subtle visual effects work. "Building a Team" is an 8-minute look at how the film's creative team came together. "Actors in Search of a Story" is an 18-minute featurette that focuses on casting and working with the actors. It's not a bad piece, but it feels a little more promotional than the rest. "Words on a Page" is a 9-minute piece about the development of the story and an exploration of some of the elements. We also get a few minutes of on-set footage, 1 deleted scene & 1 extended scene and trailers for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: A interesting, imaginative and sweet mixture of comedy and drama, "Stranger Than Fiction" is a great little film that stands as one of the best of 2006. The DVD presentation offers solid audio/video quality and a few nice bonus features. Highly recommended.
The Film A