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Wonder Boys (R)
Official Site

Director: Curtis Hanson

Producers: Scott Rudin, Curtis Hanson

Written by: Steven Kloves

Cast: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., Katie Holmes, Rip Torm, Richard Thomas

Rating: **** out of 5

Who'd've thought Michael Douglas could look so adorable? As Grady Tripp, Douglas is a pot-smoking Garrison Keillor teddy bear of a man. WONDER BOYS takes place around a weekend writers' conference at an unnamed Pittsburgh college (Michael Chabon, author of the source novel, is from Pittsburgh) where Grady is a faculty member in the English Department. His fans, his colleagues, and his editor are clamoring for a follow-up to his brilliant, influential, but years-old novel, The Arsonist's Daughter. Trouble is, Grady has a writing problem — he can't stop. His new book is a 2,000-page monster-in-a-box, with no end in sight. His wife has ceased to sympathize with him. In fact, as WONDER BOYS opens, she's left him. Grady grieves about her departure rather abstractly — he hates being a bad buy — but not too deeply, as he's been conducting a long-term affair with Sara, the university chancellor (McDormand). Sara is married to Grady's boss, an officious prig with a DiMaggio-Monroe fixation, who heads of the English Dept. (Thomas, aka John-Boy). Actually, he's a regular enough guy, but as he finds Grady's lack of publishing productivity and perpetual stonedness objectionable, he is, perforce, a prig.

This sort of stacking of the deck is probably what's wrong with WONDER BOYS. Not that it's a bad movie. I quite liked it. I just get a mite tetchy when I know I'm being played.

WONDER BOYS is an interesting and wacky day in the life of a man who needs to find himself. Not that he's way lost — he has an intelligent and strong-minded lover; a significant and successful work to his credit; a following; a job; and a big-ass Victorian house. In fact, it's a little too interesting, weighted as it is with 1) James Leer, a talented young student writer (Maguire) who's a pathological liar; 2) a talented young student editor-wannabe (Holmes) who's nubile and who boards at Grady's house; 3) a wacky, sexually omnivorous editor (Downey); 4) the cross-dresser he picked up on the plane; 5) an enraged bar patron who believes Grady has stolen his car; 6) an ultra-confident, prolific novelist (Torn); 7) Marilyn Monroe's jacket; and 8) a dead dog. It's as if Curtis Hanson, who has spent a bit of idle time since his critical smash, went to extremes to find and direct Not-L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. WONDER BOYS definitely fills the bill.

WONDER BOYS is not the smash that Hanson's previous film was. His comedy is a bit labored compared to his deft touch with red meat like L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Still, it can be fun, especially if your demographic is arty/literary, morally malaised recreational potheads.

—Roxanne Bogucka

HYBRID Ratings Guide:

***** Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

**** It’s worth a full-price ticket.

*** It’s worth a matinee ticket.

** Wait for video rental.

* Check out the video from the library, if you must.

0 While I would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

Mike Doughty

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