FICTION PICTURE PERFECT
Stranger Than Fiction
Directed by Marc Forster
In Stranger Than Fiction, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), a by-the-numbers IRS agent, hears a voice inside his head narrating his every action including his budding romance with Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a free-spirited baker whom hes auditing (her taxes, that is the voice is someone elses). Trying to track his narrator, Harold consults with an English Professor (Dustin Hoffman), and discovers hes a character in a work of fiction thats being penned by a novelist (Emma Thompson) famous for killing off her protagonists. Harold has to find her and convince her to spare his life thereby abandoning her masterpiece.
As fantastic and unlikely as this plot seems, in reality, the films an entirely engaging, utterly delightful romantic comedy elevated by edgy and fascinating conceptual dimensions.
Stranger Than Fiction is one of this years most original and perfect films.
Swiss-born Director Marc Forster, who scored successes with Monsters Ball, Finding Neverland, and Stay, says Stranger Than Fiction was the best developed, most balanced script hes worked with.
There was no need for me to worry about pushing plot points to make the story work. Zack Helms a talented writer, and (Producer) Lindsay Doran nurtured his script for years, really refining it and working everything out which freed me to concentrate on detail, and apply other levels of storytelling like tone and music and visual effects, Forster says. When I read it, I felt the script was magical, and knew I wanted to direct it. But, so did many other directors. So, I had to audition which was intimidating, and I almost didnt do it. But then I thought, why not?
MERIN: Howd you audition?
FORSTER: We discussed my vision for the film that Harolds world is cold, antiseptic, colorless, while Anas environment is warm and cozy and colorful, for example. But the discussions were more detailed than that.
MERIN: In Harolds world, therere graphic overlays of words, numbers and charts that actively illustrate the characters obsessive behavior and moment-to-moment mindset. Were graphics scripted or your invention on another level of storytelling?
FORSTER: They were a directorial decision. The scripts about Harold Cricks overly organized life, and I thought, how can I show that visually? Thats how the graphics arrived. But our first attempts were very cheesy. Then, my visual affects director found a group of artists called MK12 in Kansas City who designed the graphics now in the film. I saw immediately that they worked they give further definition, another layer of understanding of Harolds character and the qualities of his world.
MERIN: Harolds worlds cold, but hes a delightful character and Will Ferrells performance is absolutely brilliant. Hes so honest, and theres no shtick
FORSTER: Yes, Wills a very honest actor. When he was first suggested, I watched his other work and found it funny, but too broad for this film. I wasnt sure about casting him until I met him. Hes so humble and open, I knew immediately hes right for Harold.
MERIN: All the performances have a delicious sweetness always achieved through engaging and humorous quirkiness rather than sentimentality. For example, the Professor pours his unfinished coffee back into the pot was that yours or Dustin Hoffmans?
FORSTER: Honestly, I think that was mine, but Ive worked with Dustin before and were friends and we use things he does in real life. Like when he goes barefoot in one scene. Thats the collaboration you try to have with all your actors.
MERIN: You say Stranger Than Fictions the best script youve had, but your lineup of movies has been spectacular. How do you choose projects, and do you see a through line in your work?
FORSTER: Each is different, but I guess I chose them because I find such human qualities in them. I think all the characters in my films are emotionally repressed because thats the culture I come from. In Switzerland, you never tell people you love them. You know you love them, but you never speak about it. Its all closed within you, and its a very emotionally repressed culture and thats what I grew up with. Even in Stranger Than Fiction, the characters are emotionally repressed but ultimately they free themselves one way or another.
In Monsters Ball, its breaking the cycle of violence when she forgives him instead of killing him at the end. When I read Monsters Ball, I was overwhelmed by the pain in those people. I knew nothing about the South and that kind of racism I grew up in Switzerland, where discriminations less about color than about class or culture. I knew Id learn from making that movie.
Neverland reminded me of my childhood escapes into fantasy. Creativity and fantasy are our strongest tools, and must be supported. Neverlands the only script that made me cry. I knew I had to do it from a purely emotional standpoint but the tricky thing was not to make it too sentimental. Restraint was a constant challenge because the script was so innocent, so emotional.
I made Stay because Ive always been curious about how you know whats real and what isnt. But I was frightened about making a movie that doesnt have reality as its framework. I felt it would be like doing an abstract painting like an Escher piece or something. It was incredibly challenging. I knew people might not understand it, but felt it had to do it for my personal growth.
Stay prepared me for Stranger Than Fiction, which also challenged me to create a framework of reality around an abstract concept.
Stranger Than Fictions a modern fairytale almost in the realm of Neverland. Ultimately, it asks how much of our lives is being written? How much influence do we have over fate, over crucial incidents over whether we get hit by a bus or not? How much of that is written, and how much of that is not? (Published in New York Press)