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Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Gimme Fiction

Given the premise of Stranger Than Fiction (man hears voice narrating his life and predicting his death), the obvious and immediate comparisons would be films like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, which basically wrote the book on meta-films. But where Charlie Kaufman’s films were almost incomprehensible (though giddily so) in the extent to which they folded back in on themselves, Stranger Than Fiction is actually incredibly straight and simple at the core of it. The premise of having Will Ferrell’s drab IRS agent suddenly having his life dictated out loud by Emma Thompson’s typewriter is a clever one, but it’s never investigated how or why it’s happening, it is simply accepted and from that point on, the film is a fairly rote if charming romantic comedy.

The cast is solid as you’d expect such a collection of talent to be, though they’re not really asked to do much. Much has been made of this as Will Ferrell’s first “straight” role but really, he’s not huge stretch from his usual comedies where he’s usually a sort of wide-eyed innocent. The main difference is that he’s not given an absurd situation or characters to react to… besides the disembodied voice narrating his life. But his character stays quite reasonably within the parameters of normalcy and he never strips down to his skivvies, figuratively or literally, as I think is contractually mandated in his other films. This isn’t the sort of revelatory performance that Punch Drunk Love or The Truman Show were intended to be, but he’s still quite good – he’s just not the story.

As I mentioned, the plot is smart enough to rise above the usual Hollywood fodder but doesn’t get too caught up in its own cleverness. Instead, it attempts to avoid potentially alienating anyone watching with head games or excessive meta-ness while maintaining a decent level of intelligence – a harder tightrope to walk than you might think – and it largely succeeds. The only point I had some difficulty with was the idea that the book Emma Thompson was writing was such a great piece of fiction that it could, even for a second, be considered more important than Ferrell’s life. After all, as the audience we’re privy to both large portions of the plot and actual writing (the narration) and, well, it sounds incredibly drab.

I was a bit frustrated in everyone’s lack of interest in the mechanics of why and how Thompson was able to control Ferrell’s life, and the greater existential implications of it on him and everyone he knew, but then that’s not the film they wanted to make. And since it’s likely that even looking directly at that particular tar baby would have turned a sweet rom-com into an unmitigated (yet admirably ambitious) mess, it’s probably for the best though it does leave a faint aroma of squandered potential.

Oh, and Will Ferrell is too old to be courting Maggie Gyllenhall, but I digress.

Trailer: Stranger Than Fiction (MOV)
Stream: Spoon – “The Book I Write” (Quicktime)
Stream: Stranger Than Fiction soundtrack (Flash)

PopMatters talks to Cardigans guitarist Peter Svensson about some of the issues surrounding the delayed American release of their current album Super Extra Gravity, which I maintain is much better than Metacritic might have you believe. Of course, I disregard any review whose only frame of reference is “Lovefool” – that was 10 years ago. Get over it. Unless you’re . Public Radio International had Svensson and Nina Persson in their studios a couple weeks ago when they performed an acoustic set at CMJ, and have made one of the songs from the performance available to download – I think you can hear more if you download the whole show.

MP3: The Cardigans – “Don’t Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds)” (live at PRI)

Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live interviews Cat Power for Pitchfork. It’s a wonderfully strange piece but really, how could it not be? My contest to give away tickets to her show at the Phoenix next Wednesday ends tonight, so if you’re gonna enter, do it now.

oradio interviewed Craig and Tad of The Hold Steady at their recent stop in Toronto. Excuse the weird formatting, I extracted it from an iframe. Exclaim! also has an ultra-brief interview with the boys to go along with their review of the new album.

Neil Young’s new old Live At The Fillmore East 1970 is out today and you can stream the whole thing at AOL:

Stream: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Live At The Fillmore East 1970

Catfish Haven talks soul with CMJ. They’ve just released a video for the title track of their new album, Tell Me – check it out.

Video: Catfish Haven – “Tell Me” (YouTube)

The Dears’ matinee performance at Lee’s Palace this Saturday has been canceled – the evening show as well as those Thursday and Friday night are still on, however. Guess the underagers aren’t all about The Dears.

Spinner does some research into MySpace URLs that aren’t what you think they should be. http://myspace.com/superchunk = “Snowboarding bloke from the U.K”. That just doesn’t seem right.

By : Frank Yang at 8:42 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Dan Dickinson says:

    Will Ferrell did another "straight" role last year in Winter Passing. It was a minor role, but he was pretty good. I tire quickly of his usual comedy shtick, but he actually used (gasp!) subtlety in this one.

  2. Thierry says:

    How is Will Ferrell too old for Maggie Gyllenhaal? He’s in his late 30s, and she’s 29 or 30…

  3. Frank says:

    he’s 39, she’s 29 so no, a decade’s not so much but onscreen, he looks his age and she looks a fair bit younger. Just looked odd to them going at it.

  4. Thierry says:

    Actually, I’m not sure that it has to do with age, or his comedic background – I’ve found that regardless of the movie, there’s something about Will Ferrell (his general awkwardness? his small, dark eyes?) that always makes him come across as slightly creepy as a romantic lead or at least when courting a female co-star.

  5. Frank says:

    yeah, I think it’s the man-child character that he usually channels. It kinda makes you question whether he has the emotional (or intellectual) maturity to get involved with anyone and if the women should be ashamed for corrupting him.

    And his neck is kinda wrinkly.

  6. Karl says:

    Frank is right about his main gripe — even Dustin Hoffman proclaimed the story drab at first.

    BTW, the montage where things are going well for Farrell was shot across the street and down the street from where I live, which was cool to see onscreen.

    As for the age thing… wait a few years and see if you feel the same way. More seriously, the age diff here was a lot less than in a lot of Hollywood movies — e.g., Richard Gere and…