I believe the reason “About a Boy” is so good is because it’s hard to peg the movie into any (or any couple of) categories. It’s not exactly a Comedy, since there’s very little laugh out loud moments. It’s not exactly a Romance because a love interest for Huge Grant’s Will doesn’t appear onscreen until well past the halfway mark, and she doesn’t stay for any length of time. If I had to place the film, I would call it a Drama, because it touches on some very important issues without sugarcoating it — or at least, not sugarcoating it so much that I noticed. Of course, that doesn’t keep the film from being oftentimes funny, insightful, and heartwarming as well.
Perennial English film Romantic Lead Hugh Grant stars as Will, a shallow bachelor who “does nothing” for a living. Will’s life consists of wasting away his day and because he lives on the residuals from a popular song written by his late father, Will doesn’t have to take on something as bothersome as a job. (Will’s lack of a job provides a running gag throughout the movie.) Will’s life gets turned upside down when he encounters Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a 12-year old boy struggling with his own life.
Marcus’ mother, Fiona (Toni Collette) is eternally depressed and has already attempted suicide once, and Marcus is seeing the warning signs all over again. In an effort to keep his mom afloat, Marcus attempts to maneuver Will into the family’s life, and what started as a way to keep Marcus’ home life in one piece turns into Will’s chance to escape his own empty existence. As Will narrates, “No man is an island”, even if he insists that he is the exception.
The best thing about “About a Boy” is its interpretation of the Marcus character. As played by Nicholas Hoult, Marcus is not all that bright (re: he’s no kid genius). He’s also not all that “cool” or “hip” (he’s bullied at school on a regular basis). In fact, Marcus has no answers to anything. And those things are what make Marcus so real and hopelessly likeable. We are immediately on his side and we never leave.
How many times have we seen movie kids that seem to know all the mysteries of the universe? Or kids that could throw back a clever one-liner and outwit adults without breaking a sweat, even though they’ve never left their room? Hollywood is obsessed with making kids smarter than they actually are, probably because they pander to the “young” demographic so much. (And who doesn’t like to be told that they’re smarter and cooler than they actually feel — and know — they are?)
Marcus brings a fresh air for the simple reason that he is so real. Young Nicholas Hoult plays the boy with the perfect combination of naivet’ and innate resourcefulness. (And is it me or does Marcus look a little bit like a Vulcan?) This is the portrayal movies should endeavor to make. Kids are confused about everything — life, love, family, and themselves. “About a Boy” shows it like it is, not how some screenwriter thinks kids should be so the kids watching the film will “dig” it.
And then there’s Huge Grant. To be honest, I’ve never been that big a fan of Grant. That isn’t to say I dislike the man, just that I’ve always found his films to be cookie cutter versions of each other. Like Freddie Prinze Jr., only as an adult. While Grant’s Will is so unabashedly shallow that he’s fun to watch, I couldn’t really say if Will affected me at all. The obvious parallels the film was trying to draw between Will’s isolated life and Marcus’ burgeoning adulthood was obvious. Grant’s interactions with Marcus are priceless, but I still can’t shake the feeling that Grant has played this character (only even more shallow in this one) ever since the guy started acting.
“About a Boy” is a very good film, even if it got somewhat predictable toward the end. There is always conflict in Romantic Comedies (or Dramas on the verge of Comedies) toward the end that separates the main character from his love interest (or in this case, his friend), only to have a reunion take place at the end by means of a sequence of contrived events. “Boy”, which had been an original film in every respect up to this point, took a slight blundering step in the end.
A slight one, to be sure — but one nevertheless.
Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz (director) / Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz (screenplay)
CAST: Hugh Grant …. Will
Nicholas Hoult …. Marcus
Toni Collette …. Fiona
Nat Gastiain Tena …. Ellie
Rachel Weisz …. Rachel