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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 Collin Souter

"On my island, this is a great movie"
5 stars

There seems to be something about Nick Hornby’s material that clicks with people in their twenties and thirties, particularly those who still feel as though they never evolved beyond their late teens. And yet, even his latest book, “How To Be Good,” reaches people such as myself, even though it tells its story from the point of view of a woman in her forties. He has a knack for getting into his character’s brains and mannerisms until they somehow become our own. When reading a Nick Hornby book or short story, the reader becomes the outsider, lay-about or just plain unhappy person they always had inside them, and perhaps still do.

Hornby’s books don’t follow a formula that screams “Hollywood hit!” His books meander from situation to situation, without much use for a big three-act structure. His stories put us into the heads of his main characters and we’re stuck there. We get to know their daily routines, their eccentric friends and family members and we especially get to know what kinds of people to whom they can’t possibly relate. “About A Boy,” the second film based on a Hornby novel (the first was “High Fidelity”), tells the story of Will (Hugh Grant), a lay-about who lives off money he inherited from his father, a songwriter known only for one song.

Will likes to buy CDs, have his hair professionally messed-up and meet women. He can’t handle babies or marriage. I know what you’re thinking …until he meets an amazing woman who has a kid she can’t raise by herself, and he finds himself growing up and taking responsibility. The end! Wrong. “About A Boy” certainly sets itself up for that sort of thing, but one thing in its first half-hour keeps us watching for the surprises: The movie has not one, but two narrations, one from Will and one from an 11-year-old boy named Marcus (a wonderful Nicholas Hoult). What does one have to do with the other?

Will decides that one great way to meet women would be to drop in on one of those Single Mothers Self-Help meetings and pretend he has a child. Most of the women seem to resemble cousins of Roseanne Baar’s character in “She-Devil,” but Will does fall for the moderator Suzie (Veronica Smurfit). On their first date together, she decides to bring Marcus, whose mother, Fiona (Toni Collette) has been showing up at the meetings.

Marcus is clearly a lonely boy without any form of a father figure. Will, at first to us, would seem to be a father figure, but again, we’re not dealing with conventional source material. After an incident with a duck that Marcus accidentally kills with his mother’s lethally thick loaf of bread, he and Will begin to form a bond against Will’s will. Marcus starts to follow Will around until he learns the truth: Will does not have a kid. Marcus, whether Will likes it or not, will be Will’s kid. Marcus agrees to pretend to be Will’s kid, if that will help Will meet more women, if Will agrees to let Marcus hang around his house after school.

This, of course, begs the question, why doesn’t Marcus want to go home? His mother has been suicidal as of late. She can’t so much as make him a bowl of cereal in the morning without feeling depressed. Marcus also has no friends at school. He looks somewhat nerdish, with a bowl-cut that his barber seems to have abandoned half-way through. He clearly needs somebody and he can see that Will needs somebody in his life as well. So, he hangs around Will’s house every day after school. Since Will doesn’t know how to do typical father-and-son type things, he does what he knows how to do: Take Marcus shopping.

The strength of the material in “About A Boy” remains constant, but the key scene to its intelligence comes when Fiona confronts Will in a crowded restaurant while out on a date about his intentions of having Marcus at his house all the time. In a round-about way, she accuses Will of using Marcus for something sick and perverted. In a normal Hollywood screenplay, Will would have no room in this scene for explanation or redemption. Here, he not only sets the record straight, but calls Fiona’s actions into question as well. This saves us from a stupid Hollywood convention, that of the Mistaken Identity variety, a device for low-rent screenwriters who have seen one-too many episodes of “Three’s Company.”

“About A Boy” takes many of those kinds of turns, especially near the end, when we can feel the movie about to collapse under a false sentimentality. Thankfully, writer/directors Paul and Chris Weitz know better. Their screenplay doesn’t force its characters into moronic situations so that it will come together in a romantic climax. It has no intention of the sort. This movie tells the story of two boys, one who has had it a bit rough and is wise beyond his years (Marcus) and one who has only his father’s hit Christmas song to battle as his demon (Will). “About A Boy” doesn’t preach to the single people in the audience the importance of relationships. Instead, it conveys the importance of taking yourself off your island and having people around to talk to.

The friendship between the two feels totally believable. Once again, Hornby uses pop culture as a link to connect with people. Will buys Marcus the latest, hippest shoes on the market as well as a CD walkman with a copy of Mystikal’s “Shake Yer Ass.” Marcus’s favorite song up this point has always been the insufferable “Killing Me Softly,” a song he likes to sing with his mother. “The worst,” Will tells us, “is when they sing it with their eyes closed.” Watching Marcus dance down the hallway at his school to “Shake Yer Ass,” a silly and admittedly catchy hip-hop song, makes for one of the most charming and hilarious character transformations I’ve seen in a long time.

All of this works, of course, because of the performances. Hugh Grant shows that he may be a victim of the Bruce Willis syndrome, whereby the less hair he has, the better an actor he becomes. Actually, I’ve always sort of liked Hugh Grant. Sure, he plays the same character in every movie, but I like that character. Here, without the need for a female counterpart, Grant shows more of a range. We have become so used to him trying to win the hearts of women with his blink-happy British charm. Here, he plays a cad, straight out, but completely capable of redemption and self-awareness. And he makes a great lazy-ass.
Nicholas Hoult plays Marcus beautifully. He delivers every line very matter-of-factly and never comes off as cute or unlikable. He has one of those faces where when we look at him, we don’t know what to think. Nothing he says would surprise us, yet he catches us off-guard more often than not. Because of his mannerisms and disposition, the scene towards the end involving a talent show keeps us in constant suspense. Anything goes with this kid, and Hoult seems every bit Hugh Grant’s equal, where humility almost comes second-nature whether they know it or not.

I remember seeing “High Fidelity” at a horrible time in my life when I needed it the most. In other words, it slapped me right in the face. I felt as though someone had filmed my life and put it on screen (save for the countless girlfriends). Had I read Hornby’s book first or had seen the play (“The Vinyl Shop,” adapted by fellow film critic Nick Digilio), I’m sure I would have felt exactly the same way. “About A Boy” didn’t have quite that same impact, but of all the movies this year, I can’t think of any group of characters with whom I would want to spend more time (except maybe “Last Orders,” another great movie about male bonding and life’s biggest issues). Hornby’s books—and subsequent movies—have that effect. You’re not alone.

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originally posted: 05/24/02 23:22:38
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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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