Up until about a year ago Zach Helm was pretty much a nobody in the film and TV world. He'd done a little bit of acting and writing for TV, but nothing that had ever stood out. Fast forward a few months and suddenly he's sitting on the hottest script in years, and is wanted by pretty much every major studio in the states.
Stranger Than Fiction is the story of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), a dull IRS agent with routines for every mundane task. When Harold starts hearing a voice in his head, narrating his every move, he is forced to face up to his own mortality.
While a lot has been written about the quality of Helm's screenplay, this movie could easily have been ruined, and I certainly raised an eyebrow at the thought of seeing Ferrell in the lead role. He seems to be following the Jim Carey school of acting careers. After run of out and out comedies that fans are destined to either love or hate with the fire of a thousand suns Ferrell is trying to illustrate that their is more to him than just slapstick.
Does he succeed? Yes. Stranger Than Fiction is Will Ferrells Truman Show. It's sharp, witty and poignant, while the casting is simply perfect. Emma Thompson pretty much steals the movie away from Ferrell at every opportunity as the neurotic, chain smoking author with an unhealthy obsession for death. Dustin Hoffman meanwhile is wonderful, although that's no surprise. Even in the highly over-rated I Heart Huckerbies he is the one shining light. Meanwhile, Maggie Gyllenhaal steps out from her little brothers shadow as the tax-dodger who catches Harold Cricks eye.
Some might find the direction the movie takes in the final third a little tough after the fun and frolics before it, but other than that I found it hard to fault. Well written, well directed and superbly acted, Stranger Than Fiction has just forced it's way into the best movies of the year list, and it's been a pretty strong year already.