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
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.
— Roxanne Bogucka