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About a Boy
Stars: Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, Victoria Smurfit, Sharon Small, Augustus Prew and Isabel Brook
Directors: Chris and Paul Weitz
Screenwriter: Peter Hedges
Universal Pictures
Rating: PG 13
Website: www.About-a-Boy.com 

Hugh Grant (Bridget Jones's Diary) plays a cad so grand you literally want to drop him to the floor and grind him with your heel. His slouching posture, smirk and callow looks personify the word "cad". In the film About a Boy, Grant gets to display his cadness to perfection, but also to show acting range that may surprise some who thought light-hearted comedy was his forte.

The story has Grant living in London and doing absolutely nothing with his life. He survives nicely, thank you, on royalties coming from a Christmas song his late father wrote. Hugh chases women like a moth goes after a light bulb---it is inevitable. His latest gimmick is to invent a son so he can attend weekly parenting classes and meet single mothers. Hugh goes on a date with a single Mom and her son, but she brings along the 12-year-old son (Nicholas Hoult) of a neighbor (Toni Collette). She suffers from depression. Soon, the precocious kid figures out Grant has no child and gently blackmail's him into dating Toni. Grant gets deeper and deeper into lies and soon, he is caught. Ah, the wrath of an emotionally wounded Mum. Can Sir Cadness redeem himself?

About a Boy is actually a study of being alone in society. The main characters are separated from others through quirks in their personality and they have to learn to overcome these quirks. Grant, for example, believes two weeks is long enough for a long-term relationship. Nicholas does strange things at school (singing in class) thinking he is pleasing his mother. Toni would rather wallow in tears then see what is happening to her son. It is only when the adults mature and see that there is a generation behind them needing help, that there is purpose to their lives. They may feel empty, but that doesn't mean everyone else has to.

Not that this film doesn't have hilarious moments such as when Grant buys a baby car seat for his car and then de-child's it by spraying it with mustard and ground potato chips. Nicholas falls for the tallest girl in his class who towers over him, or Grant thinking the perfect way to spend Christmas day is frozen dinners and watching The Bride of Frankenstein on video. Hugh is clearly out of his element in the parenting group and his attempts to invent a child are amusing.

Hugh Grant isn't afraid to work with a child actor, and I reference Bruce Willis (The Sixth Sense) here. You have to be sure of yourself in order to share the acting stage. Young Nicholas Hoult is a fine choice as the boy who tries to circumnavigate his problems at school and home as best he can. The problem I have is with Toni Collette who is so depressive; I was automatically reaching for a handkerchief watching her on the screen. It is mentioned that she has a job, but one wonders how she manages to get to work and stay there every day. The rest of the cast is wonderfully done, especially the school situation, which will remind everyone of the embarrassment of just plain growing up. The minute you hit the playground, you are scrutinized from shoe soles to head top and anything less than 100 percent perfect is considered weird. The adult world is slightly less judgmental; at least you have a few seconds before the verdict comes in.
About a Boy is not a slapstick comedy nor is it an adult comedy. It attempts to walk a fine line between showing us situations we have encountered (on a date and meeting another girlfriend/boyfriend) and how people react. The script succeeds, though the ending is a bit of a fantasy. Grant is a body language actor and can convey a mood with a twitch of his mouth that is better than ten pages of dialogue. The nasal voice and posture resembling the letter works well here and watch carefully at his body language as the film progresses. One need not hear dialogue to see what is happening. Budding actors out there, take note, you work with the entire body when you act. Families can come in many ages, temperaments, shapes and sizes.

Copyright 2002 Marie Asner
Submitted 5/7/02 

Will is a 38-year-old London bachelor with plenty of money, charm, and free time. He has Hugh Grant-good looks and wit to spare. Sounds like quite a catch, doesn't he? Yes, except for the fact that he's a selfish cad who spends all of his time luring women into short-term relationships only to dump them as soon a whiff of commitment is involved. Will is so low that he starts targeting single mothers once he realizes their typical insecurities and pent-up sexuality. There's just one problem, though--how to find them?

That turns out to be an easy one for Will. He pretends to have a two-year-old son named Ned and joins a single-parent support group. The ratio of pretty women to ugly women is unfortunately small for Will's
taste, but the ratio of pretty women to single men is still quite high. And when he takes a fancy to the attractive Suzie, she responds in kind. Things are going swimmingly for Will, even when Suzie invites a 12-year-old boy named Marcus along on a picnic outing. His mother Fiona, also part of the support group, isn't feeling well, and Marcus has nothing better to do. This is just a small bump in Will's plans, though, and it gives him a chance to impress Suzie with his non-existent parenting skills. But those skills will get much more of a workout than Will could've ever imagined.

When Will and Suzie go to drop Marcus back at home, they find Fiona has attempted suicide. They rush her to the hospital, and we in the audience assume this will function as a turning point for Will. An attempted suicide is usually a dramatic spike in most movies, one that manipulates both the movie's characters and audience. Here, it's merely a sign to Will that he might not be cut out for even *knowing* a single mom, and he returns to his bachelor pad to watch tv.

For Marcus, of course, it's a much bigger event. He suddenly realizes the fragility of his family situation, and he sets out to do something about it. At first, he tries to trick Will into dating his mom. Will is of course
too savvy for that, and soon that idea is quashed. But Marcus is a persistent little guy, and he soon settles for just hanging out at Will's place after school, watching tv and eating snacks. Will isn't crazy about that, either, but it seems the least he can do. And soon an unlikely friendship is born.

About a Boy, starring Hugh Grant as Will and newcomer Nicholas Hoult as Marcus, is a delightful version of a familiar story. Shallow rich guy encounters innocent child and is transformed. But one of the nice things
about the movie is that it doesn't follow a strict three-act format. The twists and turns of the plot are more like small bends in a road. The main love interest (played by Rachel Weisz) doesn't enter the picture until it's
halfway through, and there's no burst-of-light epiphany to show Will the error of his ways. Instead, he just slowly, almost imperceptibly, realizes there might be more to life than game shows, fancy cars, and one-night stands.

I suspect one of the reasons About a Boy feels much more organic than most romantic comedies is its source material. Based on a book by Nick Hornby (who also wrote High Fidelity), the story is very British and, therefore, somewhat resistant to cheap emotionalism. It also provides a rapier-sharp and bone-dry voice-over from both Marcus and Will's perspectives. The foundation of much of the movie's wonderful humor, the narration also undercuts any treacle. As Will and Marcus rush to the hospital, Will thinks, "It was horrible, just horrible . . . but driving fast behind the ambulance was fantastic."

It doesn't hurt that it's Hugh Grant reciting much of the voice-over. In movies like Bridget Jones's Diary and Notting Hill, he has established himself as one of the best comedic actors around. And unlike John Cusack in High Fidelity, who emphasized his character's earnest qualities to the detriment of the humor, Grant nails every one-liner that comes his way.

Nicholas Hoult is more than adequate as Marcus. Combining on-the-cusp-of-puberty awkwardness with a dry humor of his own, he provides both a nice foil for Grant and the emotional center of the film. The three
female leads don't have as much to do. Victoria Smurfit (as Suzie), Toni Collette (as Fiona), and Weisz are mostly just plot devices and pretty faces.

Paul and Chris Weitz (American Pie) wouldn't have been my first choices to direct this movie, but they're fine. A few unnecessary flourishes (some unfortunate close-ups and ridiculous camera movement) get in the way, but their comic timing is impeccable.

So when you've run out of comic-book heroes and space-age villains to see, and you're looking for something a little more adult, About a Boy is a good place to start.

J. Robert Parks 5/20/2002

 

 
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