Most people have heard of the interesting premise of this movie. Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS auditor with an incredibly dull life. One day he begins hearing a woman's voice narrating his every action. Unbeknownst to Crick, he actually is the protagonist in author Karen Effiel's (Emma Thompson) latest novel. We are shown dual realities as Ferrell tries to discover why he is hearing the voice and Effiel investigates method after method of killing off her character. When Ferrell hears the voice mention his impending death the search takes on a new urgency. He then enlists the aid of a literary professor (Dustin Hoffman) and Crick's life takes new turns as he begins to incorporate the professor's advice into his life. I am loathe to say more about the plot as this is about as much as I knew when watching the movie and I don't want to ruin it for anyone. (I will discuss some of my other thoughts in the spoilers below.)
What I can say is that this movie is an unexpected delight, as unique and original in its own way as was About a Boy, and that is high praise indeed. One of the charms is that although it was loaded with big talent no particular actor took precedence over another.
The biggest unexpected delight were the last few minutes of the movie which suddenly refocused our eyes on life in an entirely different way. It then becomes redemptive and life affirming in a way that not only affects every character in the movie but allows us to see the world in a new way as well. Intrigued? Good. Go see this movie.
- I found the little counting/measuring device that overlay many of the scenes to be distracting and of no value whatsoever. It was clever but we got the point without it.
- I was really bothered by the way that practically every living space was sterile and sparsely furnished, with no decorations. The only exceptions were the baker's home and bakery, and the professor's office which all had a warm, homey feel. These characters are the only ones with fairly fulfilled lives and this shows in their environments as well.
- I really enjoyed the way that we were shown the author's imagined methods of death by using the little boy on a bike and the job seeker every time. I also enjoyed the fact that, as time went on, the job seeker's life obviously did also as she became employed.
- I liked seeing the author's agony as she realized that if Harold was real then there was the possibility that she had killed eight other "real" people. This was not just in the service of her art. There were real lives who had been ruined.
- As we got closer to the end of the movie and it became increasingly clear that Harold's death was inevitable, accepted even by him, I became angrier and angrier. Also fairly obvious was the idea that he'd have to save someone's life to make his own death necessary. However, that didn't help much, considering that the main proponent for his death was the professor who claimed it would be necessary for a great piece of literature. Is this the cost of art? No, indeed. So I just got angrier. Then when I saw the death scene ... what a cliche! This, to me was one of the weakest points. If this book was a great piece of art, then the death scene should have been a tad more original, n'est ce pas?
- Of course, the brilliant, final author's narration pulls the entire story together and spins the focus around in such a way that you see that self-sacrifice, freely offered, is an action that cannot be denied and that changes everyone who sees it. Not only is Harold redeemed but the professor stops just lifeguarding and enters the water himself. The writer also is transformed. She looks terrible throughout the movie, as if she's about to die herself, chain smoking, red eyed, hasn't published a novel in ten years, and is suffering from writer's block so severe that the publisher sends her an "assistant" to push progress along on time. When we see her at the end of the movie, she looks healthy and peaceful, even when contemplating rewriting the rest of the book, and thereby undertaking a complete departure from her usual methodology. Harold's willing sacrifice shook her our of her rut and made her see that there could be a better story, a more worthy story, to tell. That the little things like a warm cookie, the touch of a hand, a hug, a little act of kindness are truly the things that can transform our lives and make them worth living. It is also part of the genius of this movie, that such hackneyed phrases can take on a new and redemptive life when the viewer is seeing them ... and that is because they are true.