Reality bites

Stranger Than Fiction

click to enlarge IT'S LIKE THIS: Will Ferrell (right) learns from Dustin Hoffman that he is really the main character in a novel. - Sony Pictures Entertainment
Sony Pictures Entertainment
IT'S LIKE THIS: Will Ferrell (right) learns from Dustin Hoffman that he is really the main character in a novel.

At some point or other, just about everybody probably feels that his or her life could be some great (or maybe not so great) novel, and that he or she is the central character in that story. In the case of Harold Crick, the character Will Ferrell plays in Stranger Than Fiction, that literally turns out to be the case.

The hook here is that Harold becomes aware one day that his every waking moment is being determined by an omniscient, unseen writer whose off-screen narration begins to drive him crazy as it describes and comments upon his every move. Eventually, with the help of an eccentric literary expert (Dustin Hoffman), Harold realizes that he's the main character in a novel-in-process and that his death is imminent unless he can actually locate the mysterious author and somehow change the book's ending. Needless to say, this revelation causes our terribly uptight hero (Ferrell is nearly a straight man here) to loosen up, find love, learn to play guitar and discover the true meaning of life.

In the days before Charlie Kaufman, one might have been tempted to suss out the literary roots of Stranger Than Fiction, particularly in the work of John Barth — but the obvious references here are really movies, with films such as Kaufman's Adaptation, Groundhog Day and, for all its flaws, I Huckabees leading the pack. But while there are plenty of amusing moments to enjoy in Stranger Than Fiction, there's nothing in Zach Hem's script that's remotely as thought-provoking as even the least of Kaufman's projects, nor anything as genuinely touching as the lessons learned in Groundhog Day.

Art and reality collide in Stranger Than Fiction in ways more cute than clever, with metaphysics essentially serving as window dressing for what is basically just a moderately engaging romantic comedy. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Stranger Than Fiction (PG-13) Stars Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah. Opens Nov. 10 at local theaters. 3 stars

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