The movie opens and we meet Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), who is a pretty boring guy. Every morning he brushes each of his teeth 76 times (and counts), he ties a single knot in his tie instead of a double to save time, he takes the same number of steps to 8:15 bus which he takes every day to his work at the IRS, he eats alone, he sleeps alone.
In the beginning of the movie, as we meet Harold, it is being narrated by Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a British woman. However, Harold doesn't hear it. Kay is describing how Harold did the very same thing every day for 12 years until this Wednesday.
When he wakes up on Wednesday and starts to brush his teeth, he hears Kay narrating his life. She's describing him brushing his teeth and he starts to freak out. "Hello?" For a time he stares at his toothbrush, like it is talking to him.
This confusion makes Harold late for the bus. Just as his misses it, the narrator says something about it being "this particular Wednesday," and he asks the person standing next to him at the bus stop if they heard the voice that said "this particular Wednesday." They say, "well it is Wednesday" and Harold looks and feels pretty crazy.
At work, he's filing and the narrator is describing how, to Harold, the sound of the manila folders sliding against each other is like the waves crashing at the end of a deep endless ocean (remember this.) Harold's friend Dave (Tony Hale) walks in, and Harold asks him if he hears "it." Harold starts filing, Kay is narrating, Harold stops and asks Dave if he heard "that voice." Dave clearly didn't. He asks Harold which of two audits he wants, the baker or the securities advisor. One file is slim and the other quite fat. Dave, seeing the look in Harold's face and thinking he's kind of crazy, gives him the baker's slim file.
In between scenes about Harold we meet Kay Eiffel. The first time we see her she's on the top of a building, smoking a cigarette. She puts out her cigarette and jumps. Then we snap back into reality and see her daydreaming. She is always daydreaming ways to die.
It turns out Kay is having a heck of a time finishing her latest book and the publisher has sent her a "personal assistant" Penny (Queen Latifah), whose job it is to make sure Kay works and gets her book done. Penny has never missed a deadline, never asked for more time, and is very successful at helping authors get their books done. Kay doesn't really want an assistant, but it's not her choice.
One note: She doesn't narrate EVERYTHING in Harold's life, just some things. I'll try to be clear about the scenes she is narrating in Harold's head.
Back to Harold. He goes to the bakery where he meets Anna Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhall). She is seriously mad she is being audited, and she deliberately didn't pay her taxes. She is very politically minded and has lots of posters up in her bakery, some of which are anti-government/socialist, etc. All types of people are in there getting food, and she even gives cupcakes and bread to homeless people. She tells Harold she is all for parks and trails and is happy to pay those taxes, but other taxes she doesn't agree with, so she didn't pay them. I think it's something like 22% of her taxes she didn't pay. At one point Harold asks her if she's in some sort of anarchist group, and she's like "a group where anarchists assemble? Isn't that against the point?"
The narrator is describing this encounter and really throwing Harold for a loop because Kay keeps detailing how he is attracted to Anna's body, he is imagining her smooth legs next to his, etc., and it's pretty funny. The narrator is right and it freaks Harold out, plus Anna tells him off because she notices he's staring at her.
At this point, Harold decides to see a therapist. I think the therapist is the person who did the voice for Edna on the Incredibles, or at least she looks just like her. She tells Harold he's schizophrenic, and he promises he isn't. He said the voice isn't telling him to do anything, it's just narrating his life, like a story. Finally, she says she can't help him, but if anything she'd recommend he talk to someone familiar with literature. The HR person at his work, who is very hippie-like and weird, gets wind of Harold hearing voices, and recommends he go on vacation. After all, Harold hasn't taken vacation in 12 years.
At this point, I must explain, Kay has described a big part of Harold's life as his wristwatch. They are inextricably connected, like the watch speaks to him. He follows the watch, does just as it says, etc. At the bus stop one day, the watch is trying to speak to him because, we the audience can see, Anna is walking across the street. If Harold were to look up, he'd see her. The watch starts to freak out and finally shuts down. Harold is confused and asks someone for the time. He resets his watch, and Kay narrates "Little did he know, this seemingly insignificant act would lead to Harold's imminent death." (obviously important!)
"WHAT???" Harold screams. "His IMMINENT DEATH?" It's a pretty funny scene but not to Harold!
At this point Harold meets Professor Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who at first thinks Harold is crazy and dismisses him. Harold pleads with him and repeats the line, saying the voice told him "Little did he know…" Professor Hilbert stops him right there and says he has written papers and given lectures on "little did he know," and that it's a very important literary term. It is a "third person omniscent" term, which means there is one all-knowing narrator. He says he'll help Harold.
Harold is on the bus doing something, Kay is narrating how's doing and she describes that Anna gets on the bus and Harold almost didn't notice. Of course when he hears this he perks up and sees her. He tries to offer her his seat, but she doesn't want it. She's obviously still miffed about the audit. Finally she sits near him. He asks her where she's going and she says her "anarchist needlepoint group" or something like that. She invites him to come along, and he said he has forgotten his thimbles and socialist reading material at home. It's funny and cute. He's flustered seeing her and gets off the bus, and Kay narrates that "the effect Ms. Pascal had on Harold caused him to exit the bus 27 blocks too early." He shrugs and walks the rest of the way.
In another scene, Kay is driving in the pouring rain. There is a boy on a bike and a Metro bus, and to avoid the bus the kid gets in Kay's lane, and she swerves to avoid him and goes off the side of a bridge into the water. Just as she hits, we snap back into reality and see her and Penny, in the pouring rain, sitting on the waterfront looking toward the bridge. Penny asks what they are doing, and Kay says "imaging ways to die." See, she's got to figure out how to kill Harold Crick. Most of the ways she imagines, in some ways, include the boy on his bike and the Metro bus. In fact, there are short scenes in the movie where we see the boy getting his bike for his birthday, taking his first ride, etc. We see a black woman circling the Want Ads and getting a job as a Metro driver. These are the "characters" in all the "death scenes" Kay imagines.
Harold meets with the professor. He starts to "interview" Harold because he wants to find out what kind of story Harold is in. For example, has he received any kind of package recently on his doorstep, by surprise? A wooden horse perhaps? No. Could he possibly be the target of an assassination attempt? No. Harold answers no to all the questions. Professor Hilbert gives up and tries to get a little more simple. Is Harold in a comedy or a tragedy? In a comedy, the hero (presumably Harold) gets the girl, but in a tragedy he dies. Harold sets out to find out what kind of story he is in.
He goes to the bakery to audit Anna. She makes a flirtatious comment and we see he has a notebook where he is tallying under "comedy" and "tragedy." She makes his day just awful. She threw all her files in a big cardboard box just to make his job harder. At the end of the day, Harold looks at his notebook and has just a couple marks under "comedy" and the whole page full of tallies under "tragedy." He's pretty downtrodden.
I can't remember if it's the same day or after a second day of auditing, when he comes down from doing paperwork and Anna is alone (the store is closed and it's night time), and she offers him a chocolate chip cookie. He says he doesn't like cookies. She's perplexed and said it was a hard day for him she made sure of it and he deserves a cookie because it'll make him feel better. She gives him one and makes him dunk it in milk. She tells him she went to Harvard Law but ended up making treats for her and her friends' study sessions. At the end of the semester she had 27 study buddies, several notebooks full of terrific recipes, and a D average. So she dropped out and became a baker. She wanted to make the world a better place as a lawyer, but instead does it as a baker.
She tries to give him some cookies to take home, but he says he can't accept them but he'll purchase them instead. She's upset, and he realizes she made the cookies just for him and he feels awful. I think after this, he starts taking vacation time from his job, since he doesn't go back to the office or auditing for awhile.
Harold thinks he's in a tragedy. The professor doesn't know how to help, so he encourages Harold to "do nothing." He advises him to sit at home, don't answer the phone, don't go anywhere, do nothing. If Harold stalls the story, the story will have to come to him. At home, Harold doesn't even change the channel on the TV, and he's stuck watching this awful animal show about carnivores or something. As he sits there doing nothing! a demolition claw rips into his wall and pulls out his TV and half his living room.
Harold screams at the construction guys down there, and it turns out they started demolishing the wrong building. Oops.
Harold moves in with his buddy from work, Dave. For the first time, Harold has someone to talk to. One night he and Dave are talking and he asks Dave that if hypothetically he knew he were going to die, and he could do anything before he dies, what would he do? Dave says he would go to Space Camp. He gets Harold thinking if his life is a tragedy and he's going to die anyway, he might as well start LIVING his life. For starters, he stops counting when he brushes his teeth. He also wants to learn to play guitar. He goes to a shop the next day and looks at guitars, and Kay narrates as he sees all these guitars and finally settles on one that fits him, a used seafoam green electric guitar.
At about this time, he realizes he messed up with Anna and wants to make amends. We see Anna locking up the bakery one night, and Harold runs up holding a box full of a bunch of little bags. She asks what he wants and he says he brought her "flowers." She looks at the box… and he means "flours." He bought her a bunch of bags of different kinds of flour. She starts to tease him and says she'll purchase them from him, since she can't accept the gift, and he just starts talking about liking her and ends with "I want you." She finally says back that she wants him, too. They walk home and she invites him up.
She makes him dinner and as she is cleaning up, he sees a guitar in her living room. He starts to play the one song he knows, and she comes out of the kitchen and is just amazed and kisses him right there! Fade to black.
He runs into Professor Hilbert's office the next day screaming, "it's a comedy! I'm in a comedy! I end up with the girl!" Professor Hilbert, from their conversations, has compiled a list of possible authors/narrators of Harold's life, and they are beginning to go over them when Harold hears Kay's voice -- not narrating, but coming from the professor's TV. She is doing an interview on her "new" book, "Death and Taxes." Harold tells the professor that the woman on the TV is the narrator, and at first the professor can't believe it, because 1. she wasn't on his list, 2. that interview is over 10 years old, and 3. she only writes tragedies. We discover that Harold has been doing the same thing for 12 years because Kay had writer's block. And we and Harold discover he is going to die. According to Professor Hilbert, she kills all of her heroes. She only writes tragedies. Harold is crestfallen.
In another scene, Kay comes in to her apartment/work space and greets her assistant, and says she finally figured out a way to kill Harold Crick. Penny is pleased. Kay outlined his death on a couple pieces of yellow legal paper while she was on the bus.
Harold, now armed with Kay's name and publisher from the professor, needs to find her. He goes to the publisher's headquarters to try to get in touch with Kay, introducing himself to the front desk as "one of her characters," but they can't help. Finally, he runs to the IRS office since duh! she files a tax return every year. He discovers they audited her a few years back. He grabs her file and runs to a subway station where he calls her. This entire scene is narrated by Kay she's saying Harold's thoughts about how the phone on street level is always busy but the one in the subway is always free. We see Kay typing, "Harold dialed the number, and the phone rang." It rings in her office. "It rang again." It rings again. As she types "it rang a third time" and punches the final punctuation mark on her typewriter, it rings again and she runs to grab the phone.
"Ms. Eiffel? This is Harold Crick. I think the sound of filing is like a deep endless ocean!" He says she can't kill him, since he's real.
Harold comes over to Kay's place. She is astounded. "Your eyes! Your hair!", since obviously they were just as she had written and imagined. She says she has to kill him, he says he doesn't want to die, and they go back and forth. She finally hands him the full manuscript, with the final yellow legal pages at the end, and tells him to read it.
Instead, Harold gives it to the professor. After the professor reads it, he says it was Kay's best work and Harold has to die. Harold finally reads it for himself on the bus.
Kay is distraught. "How many people have I killed, Penny? How many?" she says. She's killed at least 8 or 9 in her many books. She is convinced they were all real people that she killed.
Harold comes to her and returns the manuscript, says it's great, and he's willing to die. He knows what happens has to happen. The night before his scripted "death," he ties up some loose ends. He signs up Dave for Space Camp. He has dinner and stays the night with Anna. As they're falling asleep, he says he needs to tell her something very important is he going to tell her he'll die tomorrow?? and he tells her that she can deduct all the baked goods she gives away as charity off her taxes, so she won't owe the government.
He wakes up. Kay is narrating the whole morning. He puts on his watch. He gets ready for work and heads to the 8:15 bus. Unfortunately, several days ago, when his watch went on the fritz and he asked someone at the bus stop for the time, he set it three minutes too fast. Seemingly insignificant to any of us, but he is now 3 minutes early for the bus. In the three minutes, the little boy with the bike speeds past the bus stop, but falls in the street. Harold rushes to help him up, just as the bus come to a screeching halt and hits him head on. Harold is lying in the street with blood around his head. Everyone at the bus stop is asking, "is he dead?"
We see Kay in her office, screaming at herself, and he typewriter reads "Harold Crick is de" … she can't finish the sentence.
The next scene, Kay goes to Professor Hilbert's office with the finished manuscript. She asks him to read it. He does… and we see him telling her "it's OK" he's obviously disappointed and it's obviously not as good as the other one. She says she'll fix the inconsistencies and she's happy with it.
Harold is in the hospital. The doctor is reading him a list of everything wrong with him both legs broken, a number of ribs broken, on and on. His wristwatch shattered and severed a main artery or something in his arm, but fortunately for Harold a shard from the watch kept the artery from bleeding out, so he is still alive, but they couldn't remove the fragment without damaging the artery so he'll have a piece of wristwatch in him forever. But he's alive.
Hence, we see, Kay killed the watch not Harold. The End.
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