Monday, June 28, 2010

I Do So Dub Thee The Acting Anomaly

...I do not get you people. I write a post that is basically a list and takes five minutes, tack on a video of vuvuzela's in Middle Earth and it has more comments than anything I have posted yet. Last night I slave over two movie reviews, especially Let The Right One In, trying to be coherent and clever and just generally going that extra mile and what do I get? Hardly a flutter of interest.

I suppose I should learn from this, but that would make too much sense. Instead I'd like to skip Music Monday because today because I haven't listened to anything but The Gaslight Anthem's new album American Slang and also the soundtrack from Be Kind Rewind for some reason and that's just too confusing to smoosh together into a post. Instead I'd like to talk about something I have decided to call "The Acting Anomaly." This is when an actor who is known for being ridiculous, untalented or just plain typecast (in this case with a negative connotation) does a film so different than their typical body of work, so awesome and unique and utterly great, that you risk a brain tumor trying to figure out why they're not like that ALL THE TIME!

Way back in...sometime that is not now, I did a post on Hayden "Bitch-pants" Christensen and how he has all the acting talent of a hardwood table but without all the useful stuff tables do, like holding coffee and pretentious books. But I had discovered that, nestled in between Star Wars Episodes Shit and Shittier was a really good movie! That he actually acted well in! Naturally I was both flummoxed and incredulous, because those are both funny words.

Today, I move on to another case of "The Acting Anomaly" in what happens to be a favorite film of mine, Stranger Than Fiction, a sweet, low-key meta-comedy starring Will Ferrell.

Wait, what?

You do mean Will Ferrell right? Like, the one who yells and screams and throws strange Man-child tantrums that might have been funny once but wear thin faster than an overworked rubber band and have all the charm of a screaming, wee-stained brat?

Why yes, that Will Ferrell

Not here though, in Stranger Than Fiction he plays Harold Crick, a fastidious (aka dull) IRS agent whose voice reaches typical Ferrell octaves only twice, and quite reasonably so: one time is when a crane crashes through the wall of his apartment, and the second is when a disembodied voice of a British woman reveals Harold's imminent death. Yeah, Harold has a voice that suddenly begins to narrate his life, and it has predicted his doom.

Meanwhile, in the same town but a whole 'nother universe, metaphorically speaking, Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) has writer's block of the decade-long variety and contemplates various forms of death while smoking endless amounts of cigarettes and trading pithy comments with the assistant her publishing company has foisted onto her, in the form of Queen Latifah (I don't know about you, but if Queen Latifah appeared and told me to finish a novel, by God I'd finish it, she looks like she could break you in half). So yeah, Kay is none other than Harold's mysterious narrator and Harold is none other than Kay's main character and source of the writer's block: she can't figure out how to end her novel with a grand flourish and kill him.

So Harold seeks help for his narration troubles through Professor Hilbert, (Dustin Hoffman, who plays like he sort of wandered onto the set and went "ok, I'm gonna do this now"). Hilbert takes Harold's claims seriously because this is that kind of movie and they try to determine whether Harold's story is comedic or tragic in an attempt to reveal the narrator, in the meantime Harold decides to make the most of the time he has left and LIVE, purchasing guitars, not wearing ties and pursuing the girl of his dreams: a crazy baker chick Anna (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who refuses to file her income taxes properly and hates him. Their relationship is the best because it is subtle and sweet (I know, Will "my underpants are on fire" Ferrell can be subtle!). Eventually, Harold finds Kay and makes himself known to her and an ultimate decision must be made: kill Harold Crick, who is a living and breathing human being and write the most beautiful, most tragic modern novel in decades, or allow him to live, and achieve nothing?

Despite the wtf-ness of that ultimate question, the movie is overall very light-hearted and like Game 6, a movie for writers, gently mocking various tropes and cliches while at the same time celebrating the art and craft of the novel (and ostensibly film). The soundtrack is also awesome, with Spoon, The Clash and Wreckless Eric as done by Will Ferrell on the guitar. All the actors bring their A game and Will Ferrell just, he just owns it. He is believable, he is likable and he is painfully shy until Maggie Gyllenhaal's character helps bring him out of his shell. By the movie's end, you don't want him to die, which is more than you can say for any other Will Ferrell character, which begs the obligatory "What the effing hell, Will Ferrell? You can be subtle and dramatic and not scream all your lines like someone just dosed you with methamphetamines! What is your problem? Why not act legitimately like this all the time? You actually have talent and yet you made Land of the Lost. THIS MAKES NO SENSE."

Unlike John C. Reilly, who has made a career out of balancing retarded roles with great ones, much like Christensen in Shattered Glass, this is Ferrell's only dramatic-y, acting-y role. I suppose you could make an argument for Melinda And Melinda but he's really sort of playing a caricature of himself in that movie. Anyways, I can't overstate that Stranger Than Fiction is a sweet movie, it will make you smile unless you're some kind of joyless shell of a human, in which case, good luck with that. For those who have seen it though, I am curious if you like the ending or if you wish it had gone with the original (in terms of the book-within-the movie) ending. I'm honestly not sure, personally. Do share. Overall, it earns three and a half understated Will Ferrells out of five.

This is Sugary Cynic saying "I am copy writing the term "Acting Anomaly" so nyah, bitches" 'Night!

(Harold has brought a box full of baggies to Anna the baker to apologize for being a butt)

Harold: "...I brought you flours"


  1. ...Thank you so much for articulating what I think of Will Ferrell in this film. Because, like, I like him in it. And I, like, want to hate myself for this because I hate Will Ferrell except he's like REALLY GOOD in it which leaves me in a bit of a situation.

    The ending left me "WTF"ing, but in a good way, like after I read a decent novel, so I would say I like what they did with it.

    Challenge to next commenter: Use "like" more than I just did.

  2. See also: Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love.

  3. Qasim: thanks dude :D

    Noli: I feel your pain, you are not alone :p

    Unwashed: I've heard mixed, crazy things about that movie though, worth checking out?

  4. Who doesn't love Will Ferrell? Land of The Lost was an awesome movie! Talladega Nights? Blades of Glory? They may not be Blazing Saddles, but is anything today?

  5. Love this movie, yo. Will Ferrell is breaking my battered heart with the shit he turns out.

    Also, go meta!

    Also (^2), I would gladly die for the greatest novel ever, but only if I could read it first. I'm That Guy, yes.

  6. rich: it's not even that they're awful movies (I do actually like Blades of Glory but no, Land of the Lost was painful). It's that he's the same damn character over and over and in Stranger Than Fiction he proved he could do something different...and went right back to the annoying shit he regularly does.

    simon: now that is some serious dedication to art right there.

  7. Definitely worth watching Punchdrunk Love. It's very peculiar and divisive, but I thought it was a belter. Adam Sandler rules in it and I usually can't stand him.

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