Occasionally there comes along a movie that is clever in the right places, has perfectly timed comedy in other places and just generally ticks all the right boxes for its genre. The list is never that long but the Marc Foster-directed 'Stranger Than Fiction' certainly claims a place on this year's shortlist.
For Harold Crick (Ferrell) every day is exactly the same as the day that went before. Obsessively compulsive and meticulous in every detail of his life, down to counting the number of strokes while brushing his teeth each morning, he steers well clear of change, colour or fun.
Harold's wrist watch controls his life. Everything must be done at a certain time, take a prescribed amount of time and not delay his next carefully-timed appointment in the schedule. He is alone in almost every respect. As a tax-man he is not generally liked by the people he meets in the course of his work. As the most boring, risk-free man in the world, women aren't generally attracted to him. And he seems to have only one friend in the world, a like-minded fellow tax inspector called Dave (Hale).
Now if you're thinking that this sounds like about as much fun as watching paint dry then think again. Enter Emma Thompson as chain-smoking, pyjama-wearing, writer-on-the-edge Kay Eiffel. She's got writers' block; her publishers are in a tizzy and straight-talking assistant Penny (Latifah) is sent in to sort things out.
When Harold wakes up one morning to a world that isn't quite the same as it was the day before he begins to worry. He can clearly hear a woman narrating his life, plotting his every move and putting ideas into his head. Even worse, she wants to kill him. His psychologist suggests schizophrenia but Harold isn’t buying it. He feels he's trapped in someone's story and so he seeks out a literary expert in the form of the amusing, caffeine-dependent Professor Jules Hilbert (Hoffman).
Along his hurried search to find this woman and convince her not to kill him, Harold encounters baker Ana Pascal (Gyllenhaal), who just may be the reason that he thinks this woman should not kill him. But will he ever find the owner of the voice and if he does will she even care?
Everything about this movie works a treat. It's an original concept, with a witty yet not overly complicated script and a wonderful cast, who are well up for the challenge. It's a story about all kinds of life issues - love, regret, missed opportunities, wasted lives, making a difference, getting a wake-up call, second chances, sacrifice, the power of dependence and home-cooking.
There are a number of stand-out performances here but it is the fabulously versatile Emma Thompson who steals the show, looking haggard and sleep-deprived as she rants and raves like a woman possessed. Will Ferrell also turns in a great performance as the leading man, quite apart from his usual silly comedy. In support, Hoffman and Gyllenhaal are both suitably quirky and feisty to propel the script forward and inject the necessary pace.
The comedy is never forced - Zach Helm's sharp script flows brilliantly throughout as the story progresses in a really open manner, much like a good book that you just can't put down.
This movie in three words - go, see, and it.