American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
What a thoughtful film this is, and how thought-stirring. Marc Forster's "Stranger Than Fiction" comes advertised as a romance, a comedy, a fantasy, and it is a little of all three, but it's really a fable, a "moral tale" like Eric Rohmer tells.
Will Ferrell stars, in another role showing that like Steve Martin and Robin Williams he has dramatic gifts to equal his comedic talent. He plays IRS agent Harold Crick, who for years has led a sedate and ordered life. He lives in an apartment that looks like it was furnished on a 15-minute visit to Crate and Barrel. His wristwatch eventually tires of this existence and mystically decides to shake things up.
Harold begins to hear a voice in his head, one that is describing his own life -- not in advance, but as a narrative that has just happened. He seeks counsel from a shrink (Linda Hunt) and convinced he is hearing his own life narrative, seeks counsel from Jules Hilbert, a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman). Hilbert methodically checks off genres and archetypes and comes up with a list of living authors who could plausibly be writing the "narration." He misses, however, Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), because he decides Harold's story is a comedy, and all of her novels end in death. However, Eiffel is indeed writing the story of Harold's life. What Hilbert failed to foresee is that it ends in Harold's death. And that is the engine for the moral tale.
Meanwhile, an astonishing thing happens. Harold goes to audit the tax return of Ana Pascal, a sprightly, tattooed bakery shop owner (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and begins to think about her. Can't stop thinking. Love has never earlier played a role in his life. Nor does she much approve of IRS accountants.