I’m unclear as to whether Stranger Than Fiction is a comedy or a tragedy. I guess strictly speaking it’s a romantic comedy, but really, that’s not the story of the movie; the story of the movie is about how something dies. Does a great person have a downfall? Yep. So I think I have to read it as a bittersweet tragedy, albeit one with an ending which could be seen as rather happy.
Then again, it perhaps betrays my bibliophiliac nature that I think the death of a novel is a tragedy. But — no, I think I’m on target. A classic tragedy is inevitable. In Stranger Than Fiction, everyone makes the right decisions; ethics prevail throughout. It just so happens that the result of these decisions is that Karen Eiffel doesn’t complete her greatest novel.
But the alternative would have been worse. It’s to the movie’s credit that there’s a bit of uncertainty there, though. Around fifteen minutes before the end, I thought Harold was going to die, and that would have been an impressive choice. Then I thought we were going to have a saccharine ending; then it was redeemed, because it was clear that the choice made was a painful one. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson pretty much pulled this off with their final scene; perfect portrayal of two people who know a sacrifice has been made.
The two of them more or less made the movie work all along, actually. Will Ferrell was good; the role wasn’t deeply demanding, but he did avoid hamming it up and he was perfectly decent as a mostly blank cipher. I’m guessing he’ll do one of these every few years to maintain cred, and if he’s this good every time he’ll deserve whatever cred he gets. But really, it was Thompson and Hoffman deserve the credit for creating the context in which he could work.