In Stranger Than Fiction, written by Great Kaufmanesque Hope Zach Helm, publishing companies assign assistants to A-list authors to help them beat writer’s block on deadline, authors write in tones of arch-sophisticated exposition, and academics discusses literature in terms seemingly lifted from Robert McKee’s Story. It’s the literary world as imagined for audiences with only the vaguest notions of how the literary world works.
Presumably they’re the audiences who’ll be so mindfucked by the premise — IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell, his stock-in-trade oafish earnestness present but dialed down) suddenly hears author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) narrating cherry-picked snippets of his fastidious existence, with Lemony Snicket-y foreshawdoings of his demise — that they won’t quibble with its cheesecloth logic.
And maybe they’ll find resonance in the one-note characterization: the spark of individuality within Everybland Crick is an unfulfilled rockstar dream; his crush is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s bleeding-heart cookie baker; his mentor is absent-mided professor Dustin Hoffman, bought used from the I Heart Huckabees set; writer Eiffel is a stressed-out nicotine addict. Or in the lowest-common-denominator pathos in the scenes depicting Crick savoring the little things in life and reckoning with his own mortality.
They may even be impressed with director Marc Forster’s grasps at authorship: his idea of a subjective viewpoint is antic CGI calculations representing Crick’s unpoetic mind, and he’s the kind of director who’ll place a character in front of blue-sky wallpaper just so people will notice when the clouds start to drift. They’re the perfect Ain’t-It-Cool touches for a story that would have been picked to pieces in an undergrad creative writing workshop.