STRANGER THAN FICTION SPEC D: Marc Forster w/ Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson. U.S. 113 min. Saturday, September 9, 6 PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN); Monday, September 11, 12:30 PM RYERSON Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
This bit of whimsy about an ultra-efficient IRS agent named Harold Crick (Ferrell), whose daily activities are narrated by a voice only he can hear, has the meta-markings of Charlie Kaufman lite by way of The Truman Show. Likewise, Ferrell takes his lead from the perpetually Oscar-baiting Jim Carrey by eschewing Ricky Bobby buffoonery - no tighty whities here, thankfully - in favour of actual acting. The result is Ferrell's best performance, a subdued, even subtle comic turn as a sweet but awkward auditor determined to change the way his life is being written. Of course, things become complicated when, with the help of an oddly understanding oddball lit professor (Dustin Hoffman), Crick discovers he's the doomed protagonist in a tragic story by a tragic writer (Thompson) struggling to finish her book - and Harold Crick - off.
Sure, serendipity has a hand in making sure everybody finds each other before the final curtain, but smart writing, assured directing from the guy who showed a similarly deft touch with the fanciful Finding Neverland, and strong performances (Maggie Gyllenhaal's cookie-baking tax dodger is as seductive as her Secretarial duties) turn this fluffy high-concept premise into something genuinely funny and surprisingly touching.