Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Inventively inverting the author’s anxiety of Adaptation. into a light romance, 2006’s Stranger Than Fiction stood as one of the most nimbly intelligent, lively, charming and beguiling existential-concept comedies since Groundhog Day.
As Punch-Drunk Love was to Adam Sandler, Fiction was to star Will Ferrell — a perfect seriocomic splinter cell of his big-baby persona, with exasperation that’s sweet rather than silly as a man inspired to live only when threatened with death.
He’s Harold Crick, an IRS auditor whose mundane existence is torn asunder upon hearing female narration of his actions, thoughts and impending death.
The voice belongs to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a novelist known for offing characters, but who has writer’s block when it comes to Harold’s chopping block. (Queen Latifah plays a hired assassin, as it were, sent to consult.)
Panicking, Harold enlists a rumpled English professor (Dustin Hoffman) to help him influence Karen to change her mind, especially once he woos a rebellious baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whom he’s auditing.
Zach Helm’s script stripped literary vehicles of coincidence, irony and comedy down to their emotional engines, and director Marc Forster, easing off his usual awards-bait drama, delivered his most organic film.
There’s surprisingly sexy warmth and chemistry between Ferrell and Gyllenhaal — whose squinty judicial eyebrows eventually widen with love to Kewpie-doll size.
It’s a romance as chivalrous and kind as the entirety of Fiction — which invested enough in its characters that you hoped they’d circumvent the tropes and traps of tragedy in front of them.