DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Stranger than Fiction, For Your Consideration, Roman de Gare


Title: Stranger than Fiction  

Release Date:  2006

Nationality and Language: USA

Running time: 113 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Distributor and Production Company: Columbia

Director; Writer: Marc Forster, wr. Zach Helm

Producer: Lindsay Dorn

Cast:   Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Linda Hunt, Queen Latifah, Dustin Hoffman

Technical: Full 1.85 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  fiction and intellectual property


This film may have the ultimate formula script, with all the plot points, and the protagonist (Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell) in desperate trouble. What is the penultimate way to be murdered? To have a fiction writer Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) determined to murder you as a character in her book.


Now, there are all kinds of warnings written in books about intellectual property law about using recognizable people in fiction (novels, short stories, or screenplays) in a derogatory manner. If the resemblance is credible (even if the name is changed) and the conclusions that the reader draws are false, that’s libel. Another variation can be false light invasion of privacy.


The trouble with Emma here is that Harold Crick had audited her for the IRS ten years before. Now here is where the movie does get funny. Harold starts hearing her voice, and Kay is a real wordsmith, as she describes Harold’s Spartan, Asperger Syndrome existence. Harold starts to come out of himself when he audits a cookie shop owner (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and eventually will sleep with her. But the voices keep coming. He visits a shrink (Linda Hunt) who sends him to a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) to figure out who the character is. There is the stuff about comedy v. tragedy that you learn in freshman college English (you know, when you get a D on your first theme).


There is a lot of stuff here about writing, that is funny as set up, but is “wrong.” Authors don’t “work” for publishers, but the Authors Guild expects its member authors to be able to get advances for books. Here, the fictitious publisher sends an “assistant” (Queen Latifah) to live in Kay’s apartment and help her through her writer’s block, as she types on an selectric typewriter. (Where are the computers and Microsoft Word? Maybe she is just old school.)  Harold actually tries to find her at the publishing offices, as if she were an employee.


The literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) is funny too. In one scene he is working as a department life guard, at age 60+, in shorts, balding legs and all (there is a quick scene of old men in the showers). Hoffman told ABC “Good Morning America” recently that there aren’t enough scripts for central characters over 60, so that’s an interesting tip for novice screenwriters.


The libertarian angle comes out, of course, in the scenes about IRS tax audits. The film makes the case: repeal the income tax and replace it with nothing.


One of my experimental screenplays, the longest one called “Make the A-List”, rather inverts the premise of this story. In that story, a young lawyer who is also trying to make it in Hollywood manipulates the writer for mutual benefit. But the same idea has been tried in other movies (“Sunset Boulevard,” “The Dying Gaul”, even “The Barefoot Contessa”).


One other thing about the cookie shop. There is an indie film coming about showbiz, “For Your Consideration,” where an actress says, “somebody killed her children and turned them into cookies, and I want to go see that.”  I’ll try to see it; may make an interesting comparison.   


Okay, I did see it.  Stats are (2006, Warner Independent Pictures/Castle Rock/Shangrai-La, dir Christopher Guest, 86 min, PG-13). It's a goofy comedy about the expectations during the Academy Awards season, as the cast of one film "Home for Purim" aka "Home for Thanksgiving" goes against competition like "Pride of Plymouth Rock". Now the character who says (about cannabilizing kids) is a producer (Carrie Aizley, I think). There are caricatures of Sydney Pollack (Morley Orkkin, played by Eugene Levy) and William H. Macy ("The Internet... that's the one with email... The Interweb ..)  Apparently, the screenwriters looked at the "interweb" with Google for other jokes, like naming a movie production company Sunfish Productions. The main Oscar hopes are for pseudo-lesbian southern belle character in "Home" played by Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara). She is relieved when they don't get the nomination.


Some of the interest in this film comes from the layered story (as in the first film on this file), as "Home for Purim" generates controversy. To me the family looked Mormon at first, but the movie says it is "Jewish" and soon cracks a "Gentile" joke about foreskin. Some of the encapsulated story is about the struggle between siblings, brother and sister, about who is disloyal to mother and let her down. There is the existential family values debate embedded here. There is 40s music played in the background often, like "Hooray for Hollywood," and, especially in the closing credits, the film does not do Dolby Digital justice. 


The title is ironic. In law, "consideration" means something of value tendered in return for something else. It sort of means that here.


Roman de Gare ("Crossed Tracks", 2008, Samuel Goldwyn, dir. Claude Lelouch, 108 min, R, France) This is a clever and somewhat manipulative thriller based on exploring the implications of fiction as reality, and vice versa. A novelist Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant) goes on a road odyssey with a man who may be a serial killer and may be her missing ghost writer. Furthermore, her best work ("God the Other") may be by him. Her first work had a curious title, "Tracks".  The movie takes some side journeys, as in the beginning when she says she wants to base a novel on a winery because that could be a weak point for terrorists to attack. One point is that a ghost writer doesn't believe that his own name could sell a book, no matter how good it is. He needs the fame and notoriety of an "Authors Guild" personality. 


Related reviews:. The Dying Gaul, etc.  Adaptation


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