As it turns out, it doesn't really matter who the Wonder Boys are. The film has enough substance and, especially, ribald and dark, dark humor to carry it despite a few minor flaws like this.
A very deep character study, Wonder Boys revolves around Pittsburgh professor and novelist Grady Tripp (Douglas), now struggling with his second novel, which has stretched into 2,600 pages and years in the making. Daytime, he teaches writing to the likes of James (Maguire) and Hannah (Holmes), while attempting to hide his affair with the (married) University Chancellor (McDormand) and keeping his unfinished novel from the grubby hands of his editor (Downey).
Grady's relationship with the talented (yet nearly sociopathic) James becomes the focus of the picture, as Grady tries to coax the hidden writing talent out of James, all while they take a wild ride together through a Pittsburgh winter storm.
The depth of character development in Wonder Boys defies any hack film critic's two-paragraph description of them. Suffice it to say that Wonder Boys is often deep and invariably quite funny, especially if you're a fan of black comedy. Case in point: The film really gets going when James kills the blind dog that is attacking Grady's leg. I never knew a dog's carcass could be so funny, and I'm something of an animal lover.
That said, Wonder Boys is no Kingpin. This is a sophisticated movie for a sophisticated audience. The cast is universally outstanding. It's especially good to see McDormand in a good role again, and Douglas and Maguire turn in very memorable performances, redeeming them both for some recent, lackluster pictures.
Go. Laugh. Enjoy a little intelligence at the movies for once.
The DVD release features a few interesting extras, most notably the interactive map of Pittsburgh, with narration by Curtis Hanson (much like he provided with the L.A. Confidential disc). It's a great letterboxed transfer, too.
Run time: 107 mins
In Theaters: Friday 25th February 2000
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Curtis Hanson Productions, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), MFF Feature Film Productions, Marubeni, Mutual Film Company, Scott Rudin Productions, Toho-Towa
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 101 Rotten: 23
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Curtis Hanson
Screenwriter: Steven Kloves
Starring: Michael Douglas as Prof. Grady Tripp, Tobey Maguire as James Leer, Frances McDormand as Dean Sara Gaskell, Katie Holmes as Hannah Green, Rip Torn as Quentin 'Q' Morewood, Robert Downey Jr. as Terry Crabtree, Jane Adams as Oola, Michael Cavadias as Miss Antonia 'Tony' Sloviak, Richard Thomas as Walter Gaskell, Alan Tudyk as Sam Traxler, Philip Bosco as Emily's Father, Kelly Bishop as Amanda Leer, George Grizzard as Fred Leer
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