I associate Will Farrell with comedies that are funny but rather dopey; his last movie Talladega Nights is a classic example. However his latest movie is different. It’s a low-key fantasy; clever, witty and somewhat dark.
Farrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS auditor with a talent for numbers and not much else. He counts things obsessively, can multiply large numbers in his head, lives alone and has no social life. (This sounds a lot like Asperger’s Syndrome, but his speech and demeanor show no obvious symptoms; perhaps a borderline case?)
One day Harold starts hearing voices–or more specifically, a single female voice narrating the mundane events of his life “with complete accuracy and a better vocabulary”. This is disturbing enough, but he gets even more upset when he hears the voice predict his imminent death.
Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is a reclusive author. She is gruff, unfriendly, very talented and suffering from writer’s block. She has made the classic mistake of coming up with a character without knowing what to do with him. She intends to kill him of course, but for the life of her she can’t figure out how to do it.
Her character is, of course, the unfortunate Harold Crick.
Harold has the good sense to seek the help of Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) a renowned expert on English Literature. Hilbert doesn’t quite know what to make of this strange person, but he does offer some sensible advice: If you think that you are a literary character, the first thing you should do is figure out if you are in a tragedy or a comedy.
But that is not as easy as it sounds. In fact it’s a difficult problem that occupies Harold (and Hilbert and eventually Kay Eiffel) for the rest of the movie.