Archive Review: About a Boy (2002)

No man is an island — but no film is either. The proverbial happy bachelor who is set in his ways is bound to succumb to the temptations of togetherness and love as he does in every film. “About a Boy” does not defy this classic character profile, but neither does it slosh around in clichéd fashion. Hugh Grant’s charms and his surrounding cast of unusuals played by fine actors add just enough color to Nick Hornby’s touching family story to appear fresh and even revelatory.
Grant plays Will, a ladies’ man living off royalties from his father’s one hit Christmas song who decides to up his game by pretending to be a single parent and going after lonely, confused single moms. This leads him by a stroke of fate to Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a pre-pubescent boy whose mother attempts suicide their very first day acquainted with each other. Marcus has surprising amount of self-determination for his age and Hoult gives him maturity beyond his years. Before long (but not without some persistence from Marcus), the two form an odd friendship. Marcus needs a distraction from his emotionally shaky home life and Will finds unintentionally that Marcus gives him some purpose and direction.

The two will redefine relationships for anyone viewing this film. The proper classification for them would be ambiguous. Will is a father figure to Marcus, but he’s also the closest thing Marcus has to a friend as the kids at school have shunned him socially because he’s odd, small and breaks out into song unbeknownst to himself on occasion. That said, Will doesn’t do any actual things for Marcus, but his presence and attention does wonders.

Will’s destiny is set from here on out. It’s only a matter to what extent he will discover the need for human connection in life, or as Marcus puts in in voice over, having more than just one other person. The script poignantly explores the notion of fulfilling self needs versus fulfilling those of others, while also carefully pointing out that these needs are intricately interconnected.

The film is an impressive departure for brothers Paul and Chris Weitz, who co-wrote “The Nutty Professor II” and directed “American Pie.” Teamed with “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” scribe Peter Hedges, the adaptation takes shape nicely. Perhaps they’re light on building Grant’s character into a truly independent person, but it’s easier to like him this way. Better he not be a jerk, which would hurt the plausibility of Marcus looking up to him.

As is true of Hornby’s work, music is central, and it’s especially prominent in “Boy.” The key turning point revolves around a performance of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” and the soundtrack from Badly Drawn Boy creates a distinct mood. The power of song as self-expression is equally important, as music creates connections between people that are intangible.

4/5 Stars

About a Boy
Directed by Chris and Paul Weitz
Written by Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz and Nick Horby (novel)
Starring: Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, Rachel Weiz, Toni Collette

1 Comment

  1. Guest says:

    About a Boy is the first Peter Hedges film I saw. He is actually going to be at Austin Film Festival 2010. I hope he talks a bit about this film.

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