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Saturday, November 11, 2006

More Ordinary than Fiction.

Hollywood, What Gives?

Fellow-ette rarely met a movie she didn't like. Mediocre romantic comedies, cheesy action movies, high-budget horror-flops have all pleased in the past. So why is this season's crop so full of crap? Marie Antoinette, The Prestige and now, Stranger than Fiction have all been yawn-inducing let-downs. The only saving grace? Borat. It only moviefilm I like.

But let's begin at the beginning. In a Saturday afternoon stupor, my sig other and I got tix for the new Will Ferrell high-concept comedy in an effort to liven ourselves up. Sure, the previews were dubious, but reviews have been decent, and the supporting cast (Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah) is strong. Plus, it's a supposedly light-hearded, very meta- meditation on fiction, which, for unpretentious lit critics, sounded like a perfect outing.

Would that it were so. The film was little more than a well-acted pack of cliches. I came out complaining that there were no character arcs; my boyfriend responded that there were no real characters. Ferrell's character, the IRS agent Harold Crick, started out as a number-obsessed, boring, lonely guy; a sketchily-drawn alienated modern man. He end up a sweet, romantically fulfilled, sketchily drawn alienated modern man. How does Harold really change, besides being happy? Not quite sure. He doesn't brush his teeth as much, for one. And he eats cookies, for another. This combination probably means that he gets cavities.

For a primer on how to do "curmudgeon-turned- sweetheart-thanks-to-
unexplained-supernatural-phemenon", see Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, c. 1995 (The Billster is clearly an inspiration to Ferrell). Not that leading man Ferrell didn't try very hard to be restrained and quirkily soulful; but he was given too little to work with. The minimalist office buildings, empty apartments, and deserted docksides that the camera lingers on oh-so-significantly are meant to signal his empty life; they end up signaling an empty script. It's all conceit, no flesh.

Thompson, Latifah and Hoffman ham it up brilliantly, but they can't overcome the movie's handicap. And Maggie Gyllenhal's Ana, gorgeous though she is, says three interesting lines at the begining and then melts like the gooey cookies she bakes, falling for Crick and turning so irritatingly cutesy and besotted that her badass tatooes suddenly seem out of place--in fact several more ruffles would suit her more. Yes, we understand why she stops hating Harold, who she met when he started auditing her, but why she falls for him is inexplicable. Who are either of these canoodling lovers, exactly? Not sure. The actors aren't even given enough meat to turn their characters into your basic, likeable ro-co leads.

Come closing credits, I felt neither edified on the nature of fiction or the nature of love. But the film's endless meditation on death did make me more scared than I already am of the perilous pitfalls that lurk in urban life-- if the movie wanted to be dark a la Adaptation, it should have just gone there.

I agree, Harold. It sucks when cute girls don't pay attention to you.

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