The Ouch Note and Stranger Than Fiction

I saw Stranger Than Fiction last week. It was a low-key movie, but really nice. It reminded me of the films by the Kasdans that I’ve liked – Zero Effect and Orange County by the son, Jake, and Mumford by the dad Lawrence. There’s a certain shared sensibility. John Walsh’s movies – Ed’s Next Move and Pipe Dream – have it too. They’re all comedies for adults.

And Maggie Gyllenhall – yum. If there’s an actress out there’s who’s more naturally sensual than her, I don’t know who it is.

One thing, though. Pauline Kael once wrote that what she hopes for, in most movies, are a few “grace notes” – moments of transcendent pleasure that make the experience worthwhile even if the movie is otherwise mediocre (which it usually is).

Someone should coin a term for the opposite of the grace note — those moments in the movie when you wince because, say, a sentimental cliche intrudes on what was, to that point, a lot of well-written dialogue, or because a bad casting choice wastes some of the flavor of an otherwise excellent ensemble (Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing comes to mind). Sometimes it’s just the tiniest thing, but it punctures the suspension of disbelief which is so much a part of immersing yourself in a movie.

In Stranger Than Fiction there was one of those discordant moments for me. It came when Will Ferrell, the sadsack IRS auditor, asks Maggie Gyllenhall, the bohemian baker, when it was that she realized she wanted to be a baker.

“When I was in college,” she said.

“Oh, was that cooking school?” said Ferrell.

“Actually,” she says, “it was Harvard Law School.”

Wince. No one who lives in the world of fancy people who go to Harvard Law School would ever collapse undergraduate and law school into “college.” College is where you go after high school. Law school is where you go after college. If you’re like Gyllenhall’s character, and you don’t want to ruin your proletarian cred by saying “Harvard” unless you absolutely have to, then you refer to Harvard Law School as “school.”

“I learned to bake when I was in school.”

Not a big goof, and, as I said, it’s a good movie, but it’s evidence of a slight carelessness on the filmmaker’s part that diminished the movie more than it should have.

Author: Dear Dexter

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