Cooking up a better life: “Stranger Than Fiction”


While watching “Stranger Than Fiction”, personally for me, the centre of attraction was Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of a baker. Along with her, the movie had Will Ferrell alongside great performances by Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. For, if you ask me, this movie is all about the attempt to make the world a better place…with cookies.

The story revolves around an ordinary IRS auditor Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell, who has voices playing in his head… the voice of an author. Her voice follows him everywhere, narrating his daily activities. Then, he hears one line that changes everything -“Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.” This throws him into action, eager to do anything it takes to avoid his death!

The high point is when Harold meets her (Ana Pascal) at her Liberty Bakery, she is the picture of a young enthusiastic entrepreneur. The bakery is crowded with customers, who clamor over the punk rock that plays. Here the reality of an entrepreneur is in the spotlight. The reality is: the customer cares. And the customer is the ultimate end game. You need to please the customer, or else you will be left with nothing. That’s ultimately what it’s all about.

Then there is the conversation that takes place in the bakery. After much resistance from her, Harold audits Ana’s business one day, and having an aversion to taxmen and the government’s policies, she makes sure that he has a lousy time auditing her!

But, somewhere inside she is slightly impressed by Harold’s commitment and genuineness. Incidentally, she feels it is his unique way of making the world a better place by helping the government in collecting taxes, which would be used to implement social welfare schemes. As night falls, when he decides to call it a day and is leaving for home, when a memorable moment happens. She offers him some fresh cookies that she has just baked. Reluctantly accepting, he strikes a conversation with her about how she ended up being a baker.

How did it all start? Ana traces her story and says college was a starting point. She revealed that she did not to a cooking college but she actually went to Harvard Law. She was barely accepted there and the only reason they let her come was because of her essay – ‘How I was going to make the world a better place with my degree’. During the study sessions, when her classmates were busy, which lasted all night long, sometimes – that’s when she turned to baking –  so, that no one would go hungry while they worked. Sometimes she would bake all afternoon in the kitchen,  and would bring the little treats to the study groups.. and people really loved them. She made a host of eatable goodies –  milk cookies, peanut-butter bars, dark chocolate, macadamia nut wedges. “Everyone would eat and stay happy and study harder and be better on the tests,” she recalled. Then more and more people started coming to the study groups…and she would bring more snacks. She was always looking for better and better recipes, until soon it was – apricot croissants and mocha bars with a almond glaze, and lemon chiffon cake with a zesty peach icing. Till at the end of the semester she “had 27 study partners, 8 journals filled with recipes….and a ‘D’ average. So, I dropped out. I just figured that if I was going to make the world a better place I would do it with cookies”. This was her defining moment!

Here is the hidden message in the movie. We often decide our career path very early in life, and follow it so diligently, and we often turn a blind eye to all other opportunities which can take us to the same destination, perhaps by using a different path, which is quite often the road less travelled. Here, the point is to recognize the one that suits us best – the one that can give us the maximum satisfaction at the end of the day!

Consider this scenario. You’ve taken the plunge and started a new business. You made it through the first year and turned a profit! When an entrepreneur takes an idea and turns it into a profitable business, it’s indeed a cause for celebration. But, it’s not enough to just keep doing the same thing – continued success is going to depend on different and evolving strategies. In order to scale up and grow in a big way, business owners have to prioritize a growth path.

In our society, people with unconventional careers often have a very different backgrounds. Still, many would say that they have not drifted a lot from their original ambitions, only the means to achieve those have changed. They still manage to put a smile on the face of the people they target, or create “customer delight”.

At the end, I atill think this contributes to the concept of ‘making the world a better place’!

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