About a Boy (2002) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and thematic elements
Running Time: 101 min.
Cast: Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, Sharon Small, Madison Cook, Jordan Cook
Director: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Screenplay: Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz (based on the novel by Nick Hornby)
About a Boy is directed by Chris and Paul Weitz, the duo that also directed the juvenile comedy American Pie and the sophomoric Chris Rock film, Down to Earth. Just like the main character of their third film, this exhibits their maturity as directors, never settling into toilet humor or vulgarities to achieve any laughs. Instead, they have chosen to adapt the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby, the author who also penned the book that was turned into High Fidelity. There's a lot to like in this thoughtful comedy, albeit a bit formulaic, but hopefully the Weitz's continue to make films as intelligent in the future.
Hugh Grant (Bridget Jones's Diary, Notting Hill) plays Will Lightman, a man that has never had a real job, or a real relationship, living off of the royalties of his father's popular Christmas song, "Santa's Super Sleigh". He has maturity issues, frequently feeling the need to lie to get himself in a relationship, then dumping the women once it appears things are getting serious. He discovers that there's merit in single mothers in particular, and when he sees a support group for single parents, he sees an opportunity to meet more. He invents a phony baby boy, catching the eye of one of the women in the group, and is later introduced to Marcus (Hoult, The Weather Man), a 12-year-old son of a friend. Marcus's mum (Collette, Changing Lanes) suffers from depression and suicidal feelings, while at school he is the object of ridicule, but he sees Will as a potential mate for his ailing mother, so he won't leave him alone. The man and boy soon form a friendship of sorts, with the younger eventually showing the elder how to finally be a man.
About a Boy impresses with good performances, especially by Hugh Grant, showing some maturity of his own in not employing his usual technique of annoying hamming. Nicholas Hoult is also quite impressive as the young boy. The characters are colorful, allowing their tale to spark interest, and the story is bolstered by genuinely interesting moments and well-written dialogue. Despite the finer qualities, it isn't all great, as there is an element of excessive corniness throughout, especially evident in a talent show climax that proves difficult to endure without embarrassment.
The film's strengths are enough to cover over any of the missteps along the way, and as a whole, About a Boy is a satisfying and endearing tale of a boy on the verge of becoming a man, and a man finally growing out of boyhood. Fans of Hugh Grant should rejoice in seeing him in a role that shows he's an actor that has more to his appeal than just looks and a grinning charm. A definite step up for all involved.
©2002 Vince Leo