As the directors Paul and Chris Weitz (American Pie) point out in the "Making Of" commentary, About a Boy (based on the novel by Nick Hornby) is not about one boy, but two. One is 38-year-old Will (Hugh Grant), a well-heeled slacker who lives off the royalties from his father's hit Christmas song (the dreadful "Santa's Super Sleigh"). Will, in voice-over, is glad to be not only "an island" but "living in an island age," where there are things like big-screen TVs, espresso makers, DVD players and other high-tech gizmos perfect for making the most of life on Bachelor Island.
In the meantime, the other boy is pinched, pale little Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), who's having "a shit time at home and a shit time at school." His profoundly depressed single mum (Toni Collette) can barely get the cereal bowls out of the cupboard in the morning much less get her life together. She sends Marcus off to school in a jumble of handwoven hippie wool garments, where he is routinely tormented and ostracized by the other kids. It's safe to say that Will and Marcus would never meet but for Will's astonishingly predatory self-centeredness. Discovering that single mothers might be good dating material, Will joins a support group for single parents (his group is called SPAT: Single Parents Alone Together) and inventing a fictional two-year-old.
It's here that this movie could have become predictable, trite and saccharine, but it never completely loses its cynical edge. Will does not fall in love with Marcus's mom, but how he becomes a sort of father figure to the boy is fresh, original and even oddly charming. While those who loved Hornby's book (written by a Brit and set in contemporary London) were a little twitchy about what the Weitz brothers might do to the film, there's no cause for alarm as the finished product is as stylish and smart as they come. The DVD extras are nothing to write home about -- the usual deleted scenes, music video and commentary sucking up between cast members and directors. But if you liked the movie and appreciate good writing, you'll want the DVD just to be able to catch some of the choice lines. Watch it with High Fidelity, also based on a Nick Hornby novel, and you've got yourself an entire evening of sharp, funny and insightful entertainment.
Publication date: 02/13/03