Maggie Gyllenhaal Awesome in 'Stranger Than Fiction'

Director Mark Forster has a thing for authors.

After all, it was the 37-year-old director who brought us "Finding Neverland," in which Johnny Depp brought the oddball creator of Peter Pan to life in the 2004 movie about the life and times of author J.M. Barrie.

In "Stranger Than Fiction," the ever-delightful Emma Thompson is Karen Eiffel, a novelist with a penchant for killing her heroes off in various pieces of fiction.

However, something strange happens on her way to "embedding the last period on the page," as her publisher-keeper (Queen Latifah) says.

As she types her work-in-progress, her words are translated somehow to a man named Harold Crick.

Her novel's main character.

Crick is played by the actor Will Ferrell -- and I use the term "actor" purposefully here, in lieu of "the comedian" Will Ferrell, or "SNL alum" Will Ferrell. In this film, Ferrell finally does work that will pry him from those juvenile stereotypes he's become famous playing.

And thank goodness for that.

As Eiffel types her novel, her voice narrates Crick's life, and one day Crick hears her, and that's when the fun begins.

But don't misunderstand my use of the word fun. While this may be a comedy, we see after Crick contacts Professor Jules Hilbert — played by Dustin Hoffman, that this film may in fact be a tragedy.

As a professor of literature, it's easy for Hilbert to suspend his disbelief and play along when Crick explains that he hears a voice narrating his life.

Hilbert investigates the genre of story Crick might be involved with, and together they figure out who the author is. Along the way, Crick, an I.R.S. auditor by trade, is assigned to audit the beautiful Maggie Gyllenhaal, and he's smitten from the get-go.

Gyllenhaal has never been sexier in any film before, and her interplay with Ferrell will propel her to more A-list films, leaving her indie-darling days behind, no doubt.

And it's about time A-list Hollywood takes on a new direction with some down-home talent, instead of those actors who mistake the wardrobe and hair departments for character development.

I loved Gyllenhaal in this movie.

As for Ferrell, he stepped up his game a bazillion notches and held his ground with legends like Hoffman and Thompson. Meanwhile, Latifah and Gyllenhaal are no schlocks themselves.

"Stranger Than Fiction" is an original film with a lot of charm and a refreshing take on life.
Now that the elections are behind us and Washington turns a corner toward bi-partisanship and cooperation, a little film with great acting and terrific writing about the joys of a simple life is a welcome development out of Tinseltown.

Keeping It Reel?

Go see "Stranger Than Fiction," and suspend your disbelief. If there's any movie this year that will help you forget about absolutely everything else for two hours, this one is it.

And isn't that how going to the movies should be? Thank you Columbia Pictures for this early Thanksgiving treat.

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