- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2006

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

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‘Stranger Than Fiction’

Rating: PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity.

Common Sense Media: On. For ages 13 and older.

**** (out of five stars)

Running time: 113 minutes

Common Sense review: Hearing voices lately? That’s nothing compared to what Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is experiencing. A woman’s voice is inside his head, narrating all of his thoughts and actions. Needless to say, he’s alarmed.

As an IRS agent, Harold lives life ruled by numbers. He’s a solitary guy whose days run from one to the other with nothing ever amiss or out of place. In fact, when it comes to obsessive-compulsive tendencies, Harold could give “Monk” a run for his money.

Harold’s life is turned upside down when he starts hearing a mysterious voice — which he eventually learns belongs to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a chain-smoking author who’s having trouble finishing her latest novel. It’s 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 nevertheless advises Harold 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 Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a baker Harold has been assigned to audit. 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.

“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 show Harold branching out in the world.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that plenty of children will want to see this movie because of star Will Ferrell. It’s not his usual silly comedy routine, though. The film explores some fairly heavy concepts about life and death. Novelist Karen Eiffel is a depressed chain smoker, and Harold Crick is a loner who suffers with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Families can talk about the meaning of life. No, really. 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 but stay safe at the same time?

Sexual content: There is romantic tension between Harold and Ana. Harold studies her breasts, and there is some brief nudity.

Language alert: Some name-calling.

Violence alert: Harold experiences some real peril dodging his imminent death. (Heavy equipment breaks through a wall, etc.) Ana throws things around her kitchen.

Social-behavior alert: The novelist is a chain smoker. A psychiatrist advises Harold to use medication to quell the voices in his head.

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