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About A Boy (PG-13)
Official Site
Directors: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Producers: Tim Bevan, Robert De Niro, Brad Epstein, Eric Fellner, Jane Rosenthal
Written by: Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz; from the novel by Nick Hornby
Cast: Hugh Grant (Will Freeman), Toni Collette (Fiona), Rachel Weisz (Rachel), Nicholas Hoult (Marcus), Nat Gastiain Tena (Ellie)

Rating: out of 5

Nick Hornby burst onto most consciousnesses with his hilarious novel, High Fidelity, later made into a nearly as hilarious movie starring John Cusack. Hornby’s second novel shows us an author who’s reigning king of relationship tales from the guy perspective. About A Boy’s Will Freeman is another exasperating likeable muddle of a guy, who gets sorted out by love in the end.

Will (Grant) is very satisfied just skimming the surface of a very nice life, thank you very much. He’s single and glad of it, has a cool loft apartment, cool stereo, cool toys, very cool car. How does he afford all this luxury? He lives off the royalties of a pop song his embittered father wrote in the 1950s. The only thing that really interests Will enough to work at is meeting women.

One day, he makes an incredible discovery. His sexually satisfying affair with a divorcee ends when she breaks up with him. Astounded at the ease with which he found fun without drama, commitment-phobic Will concludes that single mothers are ideal targets, highly susceptible to the blandishments of any presentable guy who’ll take the time. Will invents a two-year-old son, Ned, and buys a car seat to lend an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative, then joins a single parents’ group. It should be a happy hunting ground, but something unexpected happens and Will gets pulled beneath the emotional surface of things. On a simple picnic outing, the woman he’s set his sights on brings along her pal’s 12-year-old, Marcus (Hoult). When they take Marcus home, they find that his mother, Fiona (Collette), has attempted suicide.

Fiona recovers, but Marcus is terrified by the small number of significant people in his life, and decides that Will must become one of them. He trails Will long enough to discover that baby Ned is a fiction, then blackmails Will into letting him spend time at his groovy flat. Now Will is forced to take note of Marcus’s rather shitty life—in a tearing panic about his mom’s emotional and mental health, tormented by schoolkids every day (and little wonder; he wears a Beatles’ mop-top cut, he bursts into song unexpectedly, and his clueless hippie mom dresses him funny)—and then to take action.

The trouble with getting involved is, there’s no end to it, and no telling where it will lead you. This is a romantic comedy, so we the audience have a pretty good idea where it will lead Will. But it’s not where you’d think, or at least the trip to where you think is not a direct one. Now frankly, for me, this is a good thing. I’m none too fond of romantic comedy, but if anyone could do this sensibly and avoid cliché, it would be Nick Hornby. Too bad the writers felt compelled to tamper with Hornby’s wicked little book by having the story take a tack into big-telling-off scene and emotional redemption-land. The last half-hour or so invents (yeah, yeah, it’s all an invention) a new plot twist that requires Will to: 1) acknowledge Marcus’s importance in his life; 2) ride to the rescue; and 3) commit an act wholly out of character, so that we, the audience, can see how he’s “grown.” It’s not too gross, too yucky, but it strays from the earlier tenor enough to whipsaw fans of the book. If you didn’t read it, you’ll probably be just fine.

I’ve never seen a better Hugh Grant performance. Starting with last year’s Brigid Jones’s Diary, he’s shrugged off that stammering, eyelash-fluttering bashful boy thing he had going on, and picked up some balls and an attitude. And the lines around his eyes are jaw-droppingly sexy.

Side note: Saw a trailer for The Bourne Identity before About A Boy. When baddies approach, and Matt Damon spins and kicks and whups ass, the audience howled with laughter. Ouch.

Roxanne Bogucka


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