In About a Boy, Hugh Grant appears to be playing, well, Hugh Grant, a guy with dashing good looks who gets by on his inheritance and his incredible charm. The fact that Will "does nothing" for a living becomes a running joke and even seems to put a damper on his love life, as women are put off by his go-nowhere lifestyle. So rather than get a job, Will decides to join a single parents' support group, inventing a young son and a sob story in the hopes that the vulnerable single moms overlook his character flaws. But the plot backfires when an über-geeky 12-year-old kid named Marcus (Nicholas Hoult, more precocious even than Haley Joel Osment on bath day) takes a liking to Will, showing up on his doorstep every day after school. Alongside their unlikely friendship arise some serious issues -- primarily involving Marcus's suicidal mother (Toni Collette).
This odd blend of comedy and drama is fairly successful, and it's considerably better than the dud High Fidelity, also based on a tricky Nick Hornby book. But About a Boy is also filled with enough mixed messages and wholly unbelievable character transformations to try even the most patient of viewers. For starters, directors Chris and Paul Weitz focus not on Will's laziness but on the mere fact that he doesn't have a good answer to "What do you do?" The degree to which "what we do" defines a character -- and a person -- is as uneasy in About a Boy as it is in reality. Likewise, Will goes through some awfully incredible personal growth thanks to the titular boy -- and we actually see his character turn 180 degrees right before our eyes. Of course, this switcheroo makes no sense, but at least it's good to see a little character development in the movies these days.
Fortunately, the film is salvaged by its strong leads. Hoult is quite winsome, often stealing the show from a perfectly-timed Grant. The women in the cast, including Collette and Rachel Weisz as the ultimate love interest, are considerably more wasted though they hardly detract from the rest of the film. As a side note: Although I'm not one to endorse drugs as a categorical treatment for mental instability, Collette's utter lunatic absolutely screams for a Prozac cocktail, stat.
Altogether, About a Boy stands out against more juvenile fare like Spider-Man and the new Star Wars as one of the only "adult" stories to be found of late on the big screen. Which is funny, because it's, you know, about a boy.
About this many.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th May 2002
Box Office USA: $40.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $129M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 171 Rotten: 12
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Starring: Hugh Grant as Will, Nicholas Hoult as Marcus Brewer, Toni Collette as Fiona Brewer, Rachel Weisz as Rachel, Sharon Small as Christine, Madison Cook as Imogen, Jordan Cook as Imogen, Nicholas Hutchison as John, Ryan Speechley as Barney, Joseph Speechley as Barney, Natalia Tena as Ellie, Isabel Brook as Angie, Orlando Thor Newman as Louie, Angie's Kid, Russell Barr as Maitre D', Denise Stephenson as Lindsey, Peter Roy as Will's Dad, Rosalind Knight as Lindsey's Mum, Augustus Prew as Ali, Victoria Smurfit as Suzie
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