A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Stranger Than Fiction is a 2006 dramedy in which Will Ferrell plays a straitlaced IRS agent who starts to realize that his life is being narrated by a novelist suffering from writer's block. When the lead character first meets a woman (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) whose business he has been assigned to audit, the narrator goes into the beginnings of a sexual fantasy he's having about her that gets interrupted when the woman gets angry because he's staring at her breasts. Two characters are shown passionately kissing on a living room couch, and then the next scene shows them in bed after sex. Occasional strong profanity includes "f--k." The novelist is a chain-smoker. She's also obsessed with death: Her novels always end with the characters dying, and she's shown researching suicide by standing on the ledge of a tall building, and imagining herself driving off a bridge to avoid hitting a boy on a bicycle. A character is shown getting hit by a bus and is presumed dead. Overall, the movie explores the idea of living life to the fullest and not putting off the activities you've always wanted to try.
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What's the story?
The overly organized life of IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) turns upside down when he starts hearing the mysterious voice -- which he eventually learns belongs to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). The chain-smoking author is having trouble finishing her latest novel, which is about a guy named Harold Crick. And she can't figure out how to kill him off. As you might imagine, Harold seeks help. A psychiatrist (Linda Hunt) thinks medication is the answer. But a literary professor (Dustin Hoffman) has other ideas. He doesn't really believe Harold, but he advises him to figure out whether he's in a comedy or a tragedy. By this point, it's looking like the latter. Providing romantic (and somewhat unfriendly) tension is bakery owner Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who Harold is auditing. She hurls insults at him, and, in short, doesn't make his job any easier. Still, love blooms in odd places, and Harold finally has something to live for.
Is it any good?
STRANGER THAN FICTION is equal parts drama, comedy, and tragedy; it's a smart movie and a touching reminder that life is unpredictable and messy. But that's OK. We still need to live and not be afraid to experience new things. Some of the movie's best scenes are those of Harold branching out in the world. It's moving, but it's unlikely to appeal to kids who are looking for the kind of silly comedy that Ferrell is known for.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the meaning of life. This movie is all about living life to the fullest and not sitting carefully on the sidelines while everyone else has all the fun. On the flip side, how can you have fun and experience new things while staying safe?
How does the movie show the transformation of Harold from a straitlaced bureaucrat obsessed with numbers and efficiency to someone who serenades his lover with his guitar? Did this transformation seem believable? How did his search for the "voice in his head" play into these changes?
In one scene, Professor Hilbert tells Harold that his life is either being written as a tragedy or a comedy, and that "In tragedy, you die, and in comedy, you get hitched." What are your thoughts on this quote? What are some examples of plays, movies, and television shows that might back up this assertion?
- In theaters: November 9, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: February 27, 2007
- Cast: Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Will Ferrell
- Director: Marc Forster
- Studio: Sony Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity.
- Last updated: January 14, 2021
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