Sunday, February 18, 2007

Stranger than Fiction

Characters in novels do sometimes come to life. Like in the novel Breakbeat – where I put my main character in an argument with a woman from the Social Security, and was surprised when, at the end of the conversation, he invited her out on a date. They both wanted it, so I let them. Other times I have to keep my characters more tightly under control. I have occasionally spared them some ordeal, feeling they have suffered enough already. But I have never believed they were real.

In the film Stranger than Fiction, however, they really are. It is a delicious ‘what if’ story. What if someone woke up one day and found a narrator in his head? What if the plot choices of a reclusive novelist were being played out in real people’s lives?

Will Ferell plays a man who thinks he is in control of his admittedly narrow life. He counts the strokes of his toothbrush. He counts the number of paces to the bus stop. But when the voice of Emma Thompson comes into his head one day, narrating the things he is doing and is about to do, he starts to suspect that his future is being written.

With metafiction – stories in which storytelling itself is in some way the subject – one is never quite sure whether any shortcomings are in fact ironic statements by the writer. In Stranger than Fiction, the clichés and quirks of Emma Thompson’s narration are surely intended in this way, and added greatly to my enjoyment. I would have liked to think the unbelievably two-dimensional character of the author’s assistant, played by Queen Latifa, was another ironic statement. Unfortunately that one was just a mistake. There was nothing wrong with her acting, but the character was so obviously a device to give the novelist someone to talk to that she became unbelievable.

However, that is a small complaint about an otherwise eminently watchable, well acted and cleverly constructed romantic comedy which has plenty of laugh out loud moments along the way, especially for those who enjoy reading (and /or writing) novels.


Geraint said...

this reminds me of two other occasions that the idea has been used.
Terry Pratchett uses it so well with his Death character, where everyone has an autobiography being magically written as the person's life continued.
Also, the man once described as the world's greatest typing error - spike Milligna used it in 'Six Charlies in search of an author'

'Chapter one, in which our hero Neddy Seagoon meets the evil Gritpype Thynne...'
'Crumbs, i have to meet the evil Gritpype Thynne in Chapter one, I'd better hurry up...'

and so on.

But I find my characters do dip in every now and then and help out with scenes that are in limbo. they're especiually good with dialogue. It's like someone kindly puts the video in my mind and I watch what happens and faithfully record it!

Rod Duncan said...

I love that bit in 'Annie Hall' where Woody Allen is having an argument about movie and TV with someone in a cinema queue. They both step forward and make their case directly to the camera.

They're arguing about the views of someone called Mr McLuhan. Finally, Woody Allen says: 'Well, that's funny. I just happen to have Mr McLuhan right here...' Then he pulls a man from off-screen into the shot, who agrees with him, putting the other man in his place. Allen finally addresses us, saying, 'Boy, if life were only like this!'