About a Boy is really about two boys. Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) is a mature 12 year old with a suicidal mother (a warm but fragile Toni Collette). Will (Hugh Grant) is a womanising 38 year old, who lives off his late father’s earnings from a novelty Christmas record.Will has all the latest gadgets and knows how to be cool. He’s more of a 12 year old than Marcus, but he’s emotionally empty. Marcus has had too much to cope with for a lad his age and doesn’t fit in at school (his world is endearingly homespun). The film brings these two opposites together and shows us the mutual benefits of even the most unlikely friendships.
Director-adaptors Paul and Chris Weitz (American Pie), with co-writer Peter Hedges, have done a terrific job fashioning Nick Hornby’s novel for the screen. They’ve not sacrificed the depth or the humour, or altered the characters beyond recognition. The film isn’t as laddish as I remember the book; it has a universal appeal because we judge Will through the eyes of the female characters, who have been given a stronger presence.
Sensibly, the writers have aged Will several years to suit Grant. Although it’s hard to imagine a man living as an emotional island for nearly 40 years, his growth and change in the context of the film is believable. Grant surprises with his performance. He’s funny without resorting to his usual daffy mannerisms and he’s self-centred without repeating his cad from Bridget Jones’s Diary. Hoult and the supporting cast are all fine.About a Boy is funny and poignant and not excessively sentimental or unrealistic. Like High Fidelity, this film adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel has created a new version of the story that retains the charm and spirit of the original.