* Spoilers * Spoilers * and I’ve warned you both.
It’s eight minutes to eight on Sunday night as I write this. I have Tara sprawled in the middle of the sofa.
Poppy has made herself fit between me (on the right end of the couch) and Tara.
Doobie is pushed up against my right side, between me and the cushion, and Pumpkin is on the foot rest, next to my knee. God help me if I need coffee.
This is the story of Harold Crick, a very normal, if bored, tax inspector. A man of habits, Harold is a terribly ordinary man, living his life and brushing his teeth. Living alone, we hear about Harold’s life from the crushed-velvet voice of Emma Thompson.
However, on an ordinary Wednesday, minding his own business, Harold hears the voice-over too. It may be alarming to begin with, but Harold soon becomes frustrated as well as concerned by this omnipotent voice, this voice that knows the details of his mind, that characterises his routines, the sound of his shoes, that interferes with his thought process. He simply can’t concentrate on the standard conversations of his workplace because there’s a voice describing them.
The trouble is: no-one else can hear the voice. There’s nothing altogether malevolent in what the voice is saying but he knows it isn’t normal to hear things like this.
Thank the lord for Maggie Gyllenhaal. A half-sleeve tattooed baker, who didn’t pay all her taxes because she doesn’t agree with all of the things she’s being charged for. She might be quite happy with fixing potholes and building shelters, but not with nuclear armament or corporate bailouts – she feels justified in making her own deductions for things she doesn’t agree with. The voice of the narrator jumps in and reminds us that Harold is a man, and can’t help but notice the figure of this rather lovely baker. Harold notices. The lovely baker catches him.
He shouts out on a street corner, not cursing the heavens as the narrator believes, but cursing her in her anonymity.
There is a simply gorgeous image of Emma Thompson smoking on a rooftop and waving her arms above the bustling city, that seems reminiscent of a conductor, bringing in the string section in a vast invisible orchestra. Perhaps she is some sort of Godlike figure.
No, she’s a writer.
And her publisher’s have brought in a company schill, allegedly an assistant, to help the author finish her book and get through her apparent writer’s block.
The thing is this: she knows she has to finish off her main character. She isn’t sure how. The suit that Queen Latifah is wearing is stunning, a wide pinstripe job with a pale lavender shirt: it suits her well.
“I will gladly, and quietly, help you kill Harold Crick.” Do you know what, I believe her.
Meanwhile, back at Harold’s office, he’s been sent to see someone in HR. The chap played the younger brother of Steve Martin in ‘Parenthood’, he was in ‘Amadeus’; in this film he has a very understanding beard and a loose, yoga-ready shirt.
Harold’s watch stops. This becomes important later. The narrator explains, although not especially clearly, that this simple act of changing the time on his watch, will result in his imminent death.
What a corker of a concept.
So many films, plays, dramas on the box, books and ideas are narrated by some unseen someone. What if the players in the play could hear someone disconnected but all knowing? It would, clearly, be terrifying. No wonder the doctor Harold goes to see thinks it sounds like schizophrenia. The fact that Harold realises he is sounding like a character in a story is entirely captivating.
This film could have ended with Harold entering a psychiatric facility, and there would be far fewer laughs and opportunities for romance, or even Dustin Hoffman, who comes in as a professor of literature.
And suddenly, with the words “Little did he know”, Hoffman is on board. There must be a literary leaning.
Harold is very precise. He knows how many tiles there are in the gents. He makes calculations almost unconsciously.
With the rapid and complete knowledge that he’s about to die, he makes some better decisions. He will learn to play the guitar, he might even attempt flirting. Dustin Hoffman wants him to keep a list of comedy and tragedy in his life, in an effort to find out what kind of story he’s in, and therefore determine who his writer might be. If the writer can be identified, perhaps his “imminent” death can be postponed, if not called off completely.
It’s a beautifully realised and perfectly cast film. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Frankly, I’m a fool for Emma Thompson, and anything wordy can take me hostage right away.