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Overall Rating

Awesome: 41.53%
Worth A Look46.61%
Average: 3.39%
Pretty Bad: 1.69%
Total Crap: 6.78%

7 reviews, 76 user ratings

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About a Boy
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by Andrew Howe

"Hornby rides again"
4 stars

About a Boy comes highly recommended by the British public, but its major stumbling block to international success will be the participation of Hugh Grant. After Four Weddings and a Funeral he should have been on the fast track to stardom, until a string of mediocre films and public indiscretions saw him ostracised by his female fan base. He finally got his groove back with Bridget Jones’s Diary, but a straw poll of erstwhile fans suggests the jury’s still out on his future career prospects.

He had a lot riding on this film, and he couldn’t have picked a better vehicle to nail home his newfound maturity as a dramatic actor. About a Boy is a minor treasure, partnering an incisive tale of self-absorption and redemption with superb performances from a committed cast. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with Bridget Jones, but its darker undertones lend it a weight that Helen Fielding’s creation lacked

High Fidelity saw British writer Nick Hornby cast an appraising eye over a record-store owner with a pathological aversion to responsibility, and after cleaning up nicely with book sales and movie deals he returned to the typewriter to hammer out another treatise on arrested adolescence. Will (Grant) has never worked a day in his life, but living off the royalties of his father’s syrupy yuletide anthem leaves him at a loose end. He’s something of a cad, devoting his spare time to hedonistic pursuits, and his calculating moves on a single mother bring him into contact with the mentally unstable Fiona (Toni Collette) and her 12 year-old son Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). The remaining running time chronicles the relationship between Will and Marcus, with each acting as a catalyst for the other’s personal growth.

A simple plot summary makes it sounds like a sugary tale of redemption, but a writer of Hornby’s calibre would never stoop to such obvious mass-market tactics. Whether High Fidelity would have benefited from retaining the British setting is now a moot point, but About a Boy is awash in that glorious brand of emotional restraint that the English have made their own. Hornby avoids cliché and Hollywood excess with an almost religious zeal, inviting us to take or leave his creations as we see fit, and the result is a film you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying.

The script uses voiceover narration to provide us with an insight into Will’s psyche, and when the film opens it isn’t pretty. The fact that he’s fully aware of his status as a self-absorbed shirker will initially see him despised by many (women who’ve fallen foul of like-minded males, and anybody who works for a living), and his failure to entirely redeem himself by the closing credits could have derailed the film. However, he’s also undeniably charming, and this is where Grant comes into play. He’s always been a likeable performer, and he invests the character with an unmistakeable allure that grows on you as the minutes roll by. He’s aided by a slow-burn script that works around the edges - a throwaway line here, a minor act of basic human decency there – and it’s a testament to the skill of everyone involved that you can’t pinpoint the exact moment when you actually started liking the guy.

The irresistible desire to strangle teenage actors is a well-documented phenomenon, but Hoult joins the select crew of fresh-faced thespians who can hold their own with the oldies. Marcus is a likeable soul – he’s been ostracised at school for crimes against cool (having a parent who yells “I love you” across the schoolyard after dropping him off doesn’t help), but his obvious affection for his mother and stoic resignation are endearing. The only other role of any consequence belongs to Collette (Rachel Wiesz is in there somewhere, but thankfully she’s given exactly as much screen time as she deserves), and she makes it her own with a heartbreaking portrayal of a woman teetering on the edge of oblivion.

The film is a character study first and comedy second, and before it’s over you’ll have an investment in all of the major players. The script never takes the easy option – Will and Marcus’s relationship rarely rises above guarded friendship, and a scene where Will is confronted with his fabrications in a restaurant is so artfully conceived that you may actually find yourself agreeing with his defence – leaving us with a case-study in the art of building characters without resorting to overt manipulation and pat solutions to complex issues.

When it’s not busy plumbing the depths of the protagonists’ souls, the script serves up the kind of intelligent and pointed humour that is the mark of adult entertainment. The comedy is largely dialogue-driven, presenting us with amusing observations on everyday situations that are never contrived or laboured (you’ll often find yourself waiting for an obvious punchline that never comes). The film is, in effect, asking us to laugh at ourselves, reminding us that a knowing smile can be just as satisfying as a roll in the aisles, and it works its way to a climax that ranks as one of the greatest movie moments I’ve witnessed all year.

At a time when we’re suffocating in the sludge of the US summer season, About a Boy blows away the big-name competition with its incisive script, memorable characters and first-rate performances. It’s always intelligent and occasionally thought-provoking, and when even a moment’s reflection on the film brings a smile to the face you know it’s been time well spent. Do your bit for the Hugh Grant Preservation Society and see this film – on the evidence at hand, the rumours of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.

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originally posted: 06/27/02 12:05:29
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User Comments

9/02/19 Louise (the real one) This film has heart & soul. Great acting! The book too is excellent. 5 stars
6/22/14 Richard Brandt Sweet; her reaction hearing Will worked at Amnesty International is priceless 4 stars
3/16/12 Amanda Oh ReallyBickcock, you have better lock playing with yourself. 4 stars
7/29/10 ReallyBickcock I have a really huge dick and i wanna fuck the moms in this movie 5 stars
7/01/10 ddfdfgh this film was very boring 3 stars
7/27/08 Samantha Pruitt hugh grant was great, very sweet movie! 4 stars
5/04/08 Amiida Hilarious,but still loyal to the book,just fantastic 5 stars
4/07/08 beau bloody hilarious. Hugh grant and toni collette are gold! the kid is now in tv show 'Skins' 4 stars
3/03/08 ladavies Hugh Grant can do no wrong. 4 stars
2/09/08 Samantha P i love this movie, it was so sweet, and Hugh Grant is as charming as usual! 4 stars
5/26/07 T. Monaco Great Film 5 stars
11/01/06 Pinkline Jones Fine film. Grant excellent 1 stars
10/04/06 Baldeadly Was just as good as the book. Brill! Really funny and different. Hugh Grant is Really class 5 stars
5/06/06 Ashley Hinz I didn't like this film overly much, but I like the actors. 4 stars
4/10/06 Thomas Semesky A charming movie that doesn't go over the edge. 4 stars
3/09/06 Dk A cute and funny little film 4 stars
2/20/06 Tanya very entertaining 4 stars
11/22/05 Kurtis J. Beard Strong comedy. Grant at his best. Love the story. 4 stars
11/09/05 Ole Man Bourbon Some sappiness, but some hilarious scenes. Hugh Grant makes a great asshole. 4 stars
9/25/05 D Buckley Better than the book 5 stars
3/21/05 Richard Pryor the best since 4 weddings and a funerla 5 stars
2/18/05 noob boob not crap, not great, just average 3 stars
1/17/05 DM Very, very funny 5 stars
1/04/05 HL Very Enjoyable Movie - Hugh Grant is Perfect... 4 stars
7/08/04 wattsski Absolutely brillaint and hillarious writing. I've seen it 28 times, it never gets old. 5 stars
5/03/04 Jan In my opinion the book is more interesting than the film. 3 stars
2/18/04 Pinkline Jones Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant 5 stars
2/12/04 mongo this is real shit! 1 stars
12/02/03 smarlie lose depth 2 stars
11/09/03 I Would Perfectly casted, excellent script and overall easy to identify with. I loved it. 4 stars
9/12/03 Goofy Maxwell If nothing else you learn that single parent dinner dates are BYOB (bring your own boy). 4 stars
4/16/03 JL Quite good, and funny. 5 stars
4/11/03 Jack Bourbon The soup kitchen scene was a pants-pisser. 4 stars
3/31/03 Vitality1 this movie was MUCH better than American Pie & Down to Earth! they don't compare!!! 5 stars
3/02/03 karen surprisingly good! is hugh going to start making decent movies now? 4 stars
2/24/03 Mitsaso Funny and emotional 5 stars
2/12/03 brentley Probably the only Hugh Grant movie I actually enjoyed.... 4 stars
2/05/03 123 fresh and unique 5 stars
2/04/03 Monday Morning Oh please...this was right out of the sugar-sucking '60s. 2 stars
2/03/03 seldom scene excellent humor, easiest british film to comprehend 5 stars
1/28/03 Pinkline Jones No substance and no good looking CHICKS! 1 stars
1/24/03 Dom Great Film 5 stars
1/06/03 Zaharin Hamid aka The Movie Samseng I love this movie! If you liked "American Pie" and "Down To Earth" you'll love it too! 5 stars
9/11/02 dora brilliant,beautiful,fantastic,cool,funny,the best film i`ve seen this year 5 stars
9/10/02 John McNew Good book, GREAT movie...mostly, that is 4 stars
9/05/02 Rob real human interest story it's all about men ladies learn something !!!! 4 stars
8/28/02 viking Hugh Grant's best performance in years 5 stars
8/26/02 hum entertaining 4 stars
8/02/02 Sylvie Alice Borden Enjoyable escapist comedy that critics want to fancy to be a morality play. 4 stars
8/01/02 Matthew Smith don't expect too many laughs, it's more dramatic and at times painful 4 stars
7/28/02 Adam Voorhees A real let down, not bad but not good enough by half 3 stars
7/26/02 Turtle Hilarious and charming. Truly a great movie. 5 stars
7/11/02 Kristen Great 5 stars
6/29/02 Christopher Loved it; a wonderful movie 5 stars
6/13/02 Heather Intelligent, well-crafted, insightful movie 5 stars
6/11/02 john excellent show ... tender, well acted and touching 4 stars
6/09/02 katsat Wonderful--touching, funny, believable, deep--the year's best mainstream movie so far 5 stars
6/05/02 natasha utterly charming; excellent performances and some really good laughs 5 stars
6/05/02 Mortis Intelligent Adult humor and emotion -obliviously not for everyone 4 stars
6/03/02 cleansparks hilarious, terrific performances 5 stars
6/01/02 Blubberbot Super boring 1 stars
5/31/02 Phil M. Aficionado Delightfully funny and yet thoughtful, with some excellent performances and characters 5 stars
5/31/02 Flick Chick they call this a chick flick? 1 stars
5/29/02 ajay what's up with that kid's eyebrows? I thought it was really funny 4 stars
5/28/02 Bunny 1 Kenobi Respectable acting, but I just hate movies about sick people 1 stars
5/26/02 Nicole Pretty predictable, but decent nonetheless. Good humor. 4 stars
5/25/02 bk grant is wonderful as the boy who finally grows up 4 stars
5/25/02 frank hilarious. touching without over-doing it 5 stars
5/24/02 Kristen Hugh Grant looked good! (sizzle sizzle) 5 stars
5/22/02 Gibbo Fantastic - loyal to the book. 5 stars
5/22/02 King Kong Insipid dialogue. Like diarrhea, I kept wondering when it would end. 1 stars
5/21/02 Greyjack I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Great acting all 'round, too. 5 stars
5/19/02 Jon Artus Hugh Grant...? Without Floppy Hair...? I like it! 4 stars
5/19/02 Oracle1 If you've seen Big, Big Daddy, The Kid, then you've seen most of this film. 1 stars
5/14/02 Doc Holiday great movie, good humour bit depressing though...see it anyway 4 stars
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  17-May-2002 (PG-13)



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