The 2006 released film Stranger Than Fiction is one of the most intelligent and thought-provoking films to have come out of Hollywood in recent years. Starring Will Ferrell in the lead role, the cast includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah and Emma Thompson in support roles. This essay will confine itself to comic aspects of the film and pick out 3 types of comedy evident therein. Considering that the plot structure as well as the unfolding narrative is unusual vis-a-vis run-of-the-mill Hollywood fare, one has to broaden the analysis beyond major comedy genres.
Firstly, the most pronounced comic aspect of the film is its sense of ‘irony’. Unlike other genres of comedy like slapstick, madcap, satire, etc, ‘irony’ tends to work subcutaneous to the narrative. As a result, only an audience with a refined taste for humour can identify and appreciate it. But the very premise of interplay between ‘fiction’ and ‘reality’, that too as it unfolds contemporaneously, is a masterful conception on part of the writer Zach Helm. For example, the convergence of the apparent ‘fiction’ of author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) and its real life parallel in the life of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is logically nonsensical yet amusing and captivating. The ironic humour in this context is thus only accessible to the discerning viewer, but is evident throughout the film.
Another type of comedy witnessed in the film is Black comedy. This is so because Karen Eiffel conceives of a tragic end to the protagonist of her novel, which means Harold too would meet a tragic end. When Harold first meets Literature Professor Jules Hilbert, the latter encourages the former to experiment with his life so as to ascertain if his story is a comedy or a tragedy. But, upon discovering that his end is nigh, Harold tries to live up his remaining days in a carefree and cheerful manner, leading to feelings of euphoria. This negates the tragic aspect of death, prompting Harold to perceive his life as a comedy. Hence this recursive and loopy structure of the interconnectedness between reality and the prophecy, is a rather puzzling variety of black comedy. And, black comedy usually being allied to dark comedy, one could categorize the film under the latter as well.
And finally, the manner in which the real life of a person (Harold) is dictated by the creative imagination of a novelist (Eiffel) makes it ripe for farce. The ever present suspense and the pace with which events unfold onscreen accentuate the farcical element. The roles played by supporting characters in the film, especially Queen Latifah, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman add to effect.
Hence, in conclusion, the degree of comedy in Stranger Than Fiction is open to the viewer’s understanding of the intricacies of the film. Far from conventional genres of comedy, the comedy evident in the film manifest as ironic, black/dark and farce comedy types. An astute understanding of the complexities of the plot and its structure, especially with respect to the dimension of time, will reveal subtle manifestations of comedy.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006), Produced by Lindsay Doran, Mandate Pictures, Distributed by Columbia Pictures, United States