A corking idea for a film – ordinary man can hear his life being narrated, and the voice says he is going to die. Talk about high concept. Will Ferrell plays it toned down as the IRS auditor whose life is turned upside down when he starts hearing a voice that nobody else can that knows everything about him. He turns to Dustin Hoffman’s English Professor for help, to work out what is going on. Meanwhile, he has begun auditing a former law student turned baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who refused to pay all her tax because she doesn’t want her money spent on weapons and all the bad things government do. We also see the author of the book, Emma Thompson, a writer who has been blocked for years, struggling to finish the book (with the aide of a professional assistant from the publishers, played by Queen Latifah) because she doesn’t know how to kill the leading character because her leads always die in the end.
The film is low-key but visually inventive; the way that the characteristics of Ferrell’s idiosyncrasies are displayed (the counting of his brush strokes, the number of steps to work, etc.) with some nice computer graphics is delightful. The actors seem to inhabit their roles and enjoying themselves – Hoffman has been a revelation in the last few years since he decided to enjoy acting – and the romance that develops between Ferrell and Gyllenhaal is warm and intoxicating. Marc Forster keeps the pace and interest high with this lovely little script from Zach Helm. The ending, which tries to have it both ways with the climax, explaining itself and excusing itself, still works within the confines of the clever idea.