Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Little did he know...

When an actor like Will Ferrell does comedy, we’re focused on his actions, his lumbering gait, his flailing limbs, his harsh voice. But when an actor like Ferrell does drama, we’re looking at his eyes. Stranger Than Fiction sinks because of Ferrell’s eyes. They are black, and lifeless, like a shark. To adapt a Woody Allen line, Ferrell must constantly move to survive. If you put him in a chair and have him shed tears opposite Dustin Hoffman, he dies. And so does the movie.

In this post-Kaufman world, Stranger Than Fiction feels late. I’d rather have seen it in 1989 starring Tom Hanks, the king of acting credibly and lovably in a fantastic situation (see: Big). In Stranger Than Fiction, a disembodied voice begins narrating Ferrell’s life. That voice belongs to a famous author, who’s writing a novel about Ferrell’s character. This is not a spoiler – it’s been roundly revealed in every trailer for months. And that’s part of the problem. If I had known nothing about the movie going in, I would’ve enjoyed it more. It would’ve been the film’s one surprise.

Instead, we get a mainstream movie that thinks it has a genius idea. What it has is the most conventional plot imaginable, with some flashy drapery. And you can remove Emma Thompson from the Oscar short list. A manic-depressive novelist is a role she was born to play. Someday someone will actually write a good manic-depressive novelist role for her.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

poop! too bad, i was really excited about this one. how's tony hale?

Ehil Bent said...

I hate Will Ferrell.

J.J. said...

Tony Hale is filler, which is a whole other disappointment.

Middento said...

I'm not sure I entirely disagree with you (especially about what we do with Ferrell in a drama) but I'm also not sure I agree with you about the assessment of the movie as a whole. I may be buoyed from my current course on metafiction (this is metafiction lite, misspelling intended), but I found Thompson's character's quandry compelling -- to the point that I was actually moved. What is missing from the trailer, oddly enough, is the extent that Hoffman's character has an influence on the story and how Thompson's character has to come to terms with what she's done.

Again, I don't think this is high art, but I think it deserves a look-see. It is still smarter than most movies out there and can teach the typical Will Ferrell viewer something about how they're processing movies. And heck, the screening I went to had people in stitches and talking afterwards.