Emma, Latifah, and some guy with curly hair


Stranger Than Fiction comes out on DVD today. It got mixed reviews while it was in theaters, but it was one of my favorite movies of 2006. Here are some reasons why:

1. Emma Thompson as Kay. She makes the solitary, all-in-your-head act of writing seem communal and physical. Also, how can anyone be so beautiful and so repulsive at the same time? OK, maybe not repulsive, but Kay’s habit of saving cigarettes by putting them out in a gently cradled, saliva-dampened tissue is just gross.

Emma Thompson

2. Queen Latifah as Penny. She doesn’t have a much of a role; she’s really just there to connect Emma’s character to the world around her. But that’s why her performance is worth mentioning: It’s understated and subtle, and not a lot of actors know how to be a “supporting” character in this way. Penny shores up Kay; she grounds her and facilitates her — all without disappearing entirely. And all while wearing suits.

Queen Latifah

3. The ending. I’m not sure I like the ending, but I absolutely love the fact that the ending is openly considered by the characters (and thus the writers and director). I almost never like the way movies end; most endings just feel slapped on or too tidy. But this time the ending almost makes sense — and at least we can be sure they thought long and hard about it.

4. Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ana. I’m not a big fan of hers generally, but she is disarming and sweet. Ana manages to prove that being true to yourself is still a revolutionary way to live.

Maggie Gyllenhaal

5. Emma Thompson. Oh, have I already mentioned how stunning — in every sense of the word — Thompson is? She is pure talent, all grace and intellect yet also flawed and likeable. And lovely.

Oh, and Will Ferrell is also great, as is Dustin Hoffman. And you’ll be thinking about the twisty, fresh plot for days. Finally, where else are you going to learn how important the phrase “Little did he know” can be?

Second only to Little Miss Sunshine, this movie was the most pleasant surprise of last year. Here’s hoping for some good extras on the DVD.

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