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Ferrell’s ‘Fiction’ filled with laughs, love

Tae Andrews | Thursday, March 1, 2007

IRS auditor Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) lives a very by-the-numbers life. He tallies everything he does to the exact count and his meticulous daily routine is planned down to the minute with the aid of his trusty wristwatch.

So naturally, when he wakes up one day to hear a voice in his head narrating everything he does and predicting his imminent demise, this throws a monkey wrench into his neat and tidy little life.

Unfortunately for Mr. Crick, little does he know that he is actually the tragic protagonist of a novel in progress. Author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is writing a book in which Crick is the main character and the events of his life unfold exactly the way she punches them into her typewriter. Unfortunately for him, Eiffel is dead-set on killing him off at the end of her story.

Hilarity ensues as Ferrell yells at his toothbrush, attempts to contact the omnipotent author of his life and holes up in his apartment in an attempt to stave off death by lying on his futon and doing absolutely nothing.

In an effort to stay alive, Crick enlists the aid of English professor Jules Hibbert (Dustin Hoffman) to help him decipher the plot of his life. Along the way, Harold runs into Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a bakery owner who he’s auditing for tax fraud.

Pascal eventually manages to free Crick from the doldrums of his hum-drum life with an infusion of love in the form of chocolate chips and TLC. In other words, this anal-retentive calculator jockey goes from number-crunching to cookie-munching, falling in love with Pascal along the way.

By awakening the Cookie Monster inside of Crick, she proves the old adage true – “The best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Or is it, “if you give a mouse a cookie…?”

Gyllenhaal is very good and strangely attractive as the film’s love interest. Although she doesn’t fit the prototypical bill of a Hollywood blonde bombshell, she has an endearing appeal as the “girl next door” type, or at least the heavily-tattooed, cookie-baking shop owner around the corner. She slinks and smiles throughout the film in a way that’s both cute and sexy.

What makes “Stranger Than Fiction” work so well is Ferrell himself. Much like Michael Jordan on the ’98 NBA Champion Chicago Bulls, Will Ferrell picks and chooses his spots to shine – he knows when to defer to his teammates and when to take over.

In a surprising move, this film is less of the straight-up comedy it’s advertised as in the trailers. To be sure, “Stranger Than Fiction” has more than its fair share of funny moments sprinkled in, but for Ferrell fans used to knee-slapping and hee-hawing at every line he drops (and then subsequently regurgitating those lines ad nauseam to friends and family), the film is a change of pace.

It’s often said that real life is “stranger than fiction.” Oddly enough, for a film that has a preposterous premise (is it art imitating art imitating life, or is it art imitating art determining life?), “Stranger Than Fiction” not only rings true, but is as warm and likeable as a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies.