Harold Crick: Hero amongst taxmen

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By Kelly LeVan

“Stranger Than Fiction,” playing this week at Mesa Public Library, is one of my favorite movies. How can I review it? I gave up any objectivity very early in the film, about the time Harold Crick’s wristwatch had an opinion about the single Windsor knot in Harold’s necktie.

The wristwatch is funny, but Harold, played by Will Ferrell, or possibly his secret, stoic twin brother, is not.

Harold lives a highly organized life, with the kind of devotion to routine you might see in a scientific study. Everything is accurate, foreseeable and well managed. Every step, toothbrush stroke and dirty dish is counted and marked off on a mental checklist. He’s a human Blackberry, but without the need for an address book.

Obviously, a man like Harold doesn’t have a lot of friends.

And it doesn’t help that he works for the IRS.

Anyhow, when you, as a screenwriter, have a character like Harold, you have to introduce him to someone like Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a rebellious baker with a sweet tooth but a sharp tongue.

If Harold is a Blackberry, she is a blackberry muffin. Her audit marks one of several inaccurate, unforeseeable and terribly managed events that begin to take over Harold’s life.

So far, the details I’ve shared with you make “Stranger Than Fiction” sound like an entertaining but cinematically conventional romantic comedy. And if writer Zach Helm had gone that route, I’d still endorse the movie. The acting is so good. The characters are so easy to like.

But if “Stranger Than Fiction” had been written purely as a love story, then Dustin Hoffman wouldn’t appear as the surreal professor Dr. Jules Hilbert, and Emma Thompson wouldn’t get to narrate Harold’s life or to try to kill him.

And that would be a tragedy.

Director Marc Forster’s “Stranger Than Fiction” (Columbia Pictures, 2006, rated PG-13) has received several award nominations since its release, including Best Actor (Ferrell), Best Actress (Gyllenhaal), Best Supporting Actress (Thompson), Best Fantasy Film and Best Writing (Zach Helm) from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (the Saturn Award); Best Supporting Actress (Thompson) and Best Writer (Helm) from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Critics Choice Award); and Best Performance – Musical or Comedy (Ferrell) from the Golden Globes, among others. It won the National Board of Review Award for Best Screenplay – Original (Helm) in 2006.

The movie screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room theater. Admission and popcorn are free. This installment of the Free Film Series is happening a week earlier than originally scheduled because of events associated with the Los Alamos County Fair and Rodeo.

My score: five out of five kernels, with extra butter