Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Movie Chat: Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

I kind of liked it, but it's one of those movies where I can't help thinking that it should have been done better.

The problem isn't, I think, that it compromises or even that it doesn't make sense*. No, the problem, as I see it, is that the tone and style is all wrong. Marc Forster directs the movie as if he were Michel Gondry and the script was written by Charlie Kauffman. And maybe Zach Helm thought he wrote a Charlie Kauffman style script: one that would have benefited from minimalist/cartoony production design and a reserved, melancholy approach. However, as far as I can tell, the screenplay is like "The Kuglemass Episode" or one of the other Woody Allen stories from the 1970s. And, like those stories, it should have been played as vaudeville - existential, sure; bleak, sure - but with gags, a sense of the absurd, without the sentimentality, and, most importantly, treating Big Ideas as if they were little jokes.

But Forster and Helm seem to want us to take this movie very seriously. Not always a problem - sometimes movies need to be serious (and I need to remind myself of that from time to time) - but comedies, especially "comedies of ideas", either need to be super-sharp or have an extremely light touch. Maybe it's just the presence of Tony Hale, but I can't help but think that the folks who made Arrested Development would have handled this material with the necessary verve.

*Re: not making sense: true enough, but, really, it doesn't make all that much less sense than, say, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and even if Cairo has more internal consistency, what really gets it over is that it doesn't belabor its reality/movie metaphysics: it stays on a human scale. Instead of trying to make grand statements about the Nature of Cinema (or Fiction), it deals with the specific, touching, funny, but bittersweet role the movies play in the life of its heroine.

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