In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.
A lot of things that get labelled “indie” probably shouldn’t. How many people ever actually get to see “independent” movies, made outside of any major studio system, funded by well-meaning, scrappy filmmakers with something to say and the gumption to go out there and say it, by any means necessary? Well, they’d have to be really INTO CINEMA to see a lot of those. For most people, seeing “indie” movies consists of watching movies that do not have explosions in them and are slightly weirder or with a more off-beat central premise than your average romcom.
Marc Forster’s STRANGER THAN FICTION is a perfect example. Handsomely (and commercially) shot, spruced up with some occasional CGI for quirky asides, filled with movie stars looking slightly dowdier than in other movies or simply not doing their usual schtick, it epitomizes faux-indie. Will Ferrell plays tax auditor Harold Crick, a man so embedded in routine he has the route to work planned out to a step. But things have been going oddly for Harold lately, since he has been hearing voices. Not God, or Napoleon, or Pazuzu, but a fancy, authoritative-sounding British lady’s voice who simply narrates his day. This understandably freaks him out, and he goes to seek help. The voice is not simply a figment of his imagination though, as it turns out: it’s actually renowned author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) who is working on her newest masterpiece. There’s only one problem: Eiffel is well-known for killing off her protagonists! After going through a few psychiatrists, Harold hooks up with a wacky professor of literature (Dustin Hoffman) who tries to narrow down genres and authors. What kind of story is he in? How will it end? Once they ascertain he’s in an Eiffel novel, things are looking grim for Harold. He goes to visit the reclusive author, but she will not budge and change the ending. With his death looming in the near future, Harold dispenses with his buttoned down ways, starts eating fanciful cookies and banging Maggie Gyllenhaal. The true sign of an indie protagonist!
While I probably seem cynical and dismissive towards this movie like the FILM HIPSTER that I am, it’s actually never less than pleasant and watchable. The actors have good chemistry and the jokes mostly land, though it’s not really a laugh-out-loud comedy. The conceit of a narrator actually controlling a living person in their own world raises expectations of a movie having something to say about… free will? God? Stories? Maybe I’m just too stupid to get it (and I do like many Paul W.S. Anderson movies, so let’s not count that out) but the ending ultimately seems to reinforce only one message, and not as high-minded a one as you might expect.
After reading Eiffel’s manuscript, Harold agrees that it’s very good and accepts his fate. This perturbs the neurotic author to such an extent that she rewrites his tragic accident into a merely very painful one, and Harold and his new girlfriend get to live happily ever after eating cookies at the 99% bakery. Eiffel’s new book, however, is received as “okay” rather than the literary game-changer it otherwise apparently would have been. From Harold’s POV, the movie seems to say “accept the bad shit and shit will go your way MAYBE”. From Eiffel’s POV, the message seems to be “sometimes it’s okay to shine a little less brightly if it means helping out someone else”. Even if it’s not exactly METATEXTUALLY MINDBLOWING, the latter is a great message. Which is perhaps apt for the movie; approach it as a middle-of-the-road Hollywood tragicomedy and you’ll come away entertained and even quite charmed.
SPOILARS PARAGAREF ENDS
Uhhh… shit, I had my conclusion in the spoiler paragraph. Uhhhh…
I liked Maggie Gyllenhaal’s fake tattoo, which was hilariously covered up in many shots cuz who has the time to put a principal through extensive make-up sessions on a tight shooting schedule!