Susan Granger reviews “Stranger Than Fiction”

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If you’re into existentialist cinema – mixing fantasy with reality – this is for you.

Otherwise, it’s an implausible paradox of ‘free will’ that defies explanation.

Mild-mannered Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an agent for the Internal Revenue Service in Chicago. He’s a cautious loner, following the same regimented routine every day. Suddenly, one morning, while brushing his teeth, he hears a female voice narrating the play-by-play of this morning ritual, as if to an audience. Bewildered and concerned because the ‘voice’ has told him he’s going to die, Harold seeks help. First from a colleague (Tony Hale), then from a psychiatrist (Linda Hunt), finally from a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman), who recommends that, if he thinks he’s going to die, he should start living the life he’s always wanted. That leads Harold into taking up the guitar and making fumbling romantic moves on a sexy bohemian baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whom he’s currently auditing.

Meanwhile, an experienced assistant (Queen Latifah) has been dispatched to help reclusive, angst-ridden novelist Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is struggling to find an ending to Harold’s story which, it seems, she is, indeed, telling.

Playwright-turned-screenwriter 31 year-old Zach Helm seems to be channeling “Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Truman Show” with this engaging, inventive metaphysical concept which director Marc Forster (”Finding Neverland”) meticulously mainstreams, grounding the vivid fantasy just enough to allow the audience to suspend disbelief.

While the experienced ensemble cast delivers on the drama, it’s Will Ferrell who surprises, creating an eager vulnerability with an undercurrent of desperation. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Stranger Than Fiction” is a satisfying, inspirational 7. It’s the trippy process of storytelling that counts.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.