Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes, and Will Ferrell grapples with both playing IRS auditor Harold Crick in Stranger Than Fiction. He hears his fate foretold by a mysterious narrator and becomes consumed by a gently amusing terror. However, it's Emma Thompson who steals the show as the scribe pulling Harold's strings. Her gloomy outlook is balanced by director Marc Forster's breezy approach although in the end, this comedy drama feels rather too light.
Chaos impinges on Harold's carefully ordered life while cleaning his teeth with the customary number of brushstrokes; a voice pre-empts his thoughts and drops a hint about his imminent demise. Initially Harold tries to ignore it, finding pleasant distraction in the shape of Ana, a tax-evading baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal). But the narration persists so Harold seeks counsel from a literature professor (a slightly batty Dustin Hoffman) to figure out the end of his story.
"FRESH AND FUNNY ENOUGH"
Comedy is incidental to Ferrell's heartfelt portrayal of a man who desperately wants to live but doesn't know how. Refusing to try one of Ana's cookies is a typical blunder that stirs laughs and sympathy. But Thompson's dishevelled novelist strikes a deeper chord as she struggles with killing off her main character.
Her dilemma becomes more compelling when she realises that Harold is real. Meanwhile the romance between Harold and Ana fails to ignite and robs the story of urgency. Instead of finishing with a bang it peters out, but this existential yarn is still fresh and funny enough to justify taking two hours out of your life.