Will (Hugh Grant) is a playboy living in central London, a guy
who has done nothing with life except wow the gals. How did
he get rich? His dad wrote a single Christmas song, played
over and over on the radio and in supermarkets. Will lives on
the royalties. As he states early on, "My father wrote a crappy
song that happened to become a hit and spent his whole life
trying to write a better one."
What a metaphor, not only for Will but for Hollywood! Often
the major studios turn out crap and make out like bandits in the
box office. This time, however, a big Hollywood enterprise has
turned out something better. Much better. "About a Boy,"
though polished and commercial, is as sincere a film as any
indie company could have turned out, and what's more, thanks
to a witty, though unpretentious, script penned by Peter Hedges,
Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz and based on Nick Hornby's novel,
Universal Studios has made a genuine actor out of Hugh Grant.
No more the hirsute, effete, stuttering, blinking, overly mannered
boyish guy, albeit one who has lucked into classic works like
"Maurice." This time the forty-year-old Grant shines; still in his
signature role as a rich bachelor but one who is taught by a
precocious, unhappy twelve year old boy how to be like a father.
We can't help envying Will, however, when we see him,
presumably happy and living on his own in a contemporary town
house complete with a floor-to-ceiling aquarium, a huge-screen
TV, and pretty-much his pick of young women of various types,
but all beautiful. Is anything missing? Will doesn't think so and
maybe he's unfortunate in discovering a major gap in his life
through his meeting with this pre-teen. After all, you don't know
you're unhappy until you've experienced a life-style that's
different, one that gives you an epiphany and makes you regret
time wasted. That stroke of luck comes when he joins a group
of divorced parents in an organization called SPAT (Single
Parents Alone Together), believing that the women would be
more desperate than most. But when one of the members,
Suzie, introduces him to a friend, Fiona (Toni Collette) a
chemically depressed woman with a nerdy kid, Marcus
(Nicholas Hoult), who is the butt of his classmates' practical
jokes his life changes.
At first Marcus, dependent on Will as he is obviously needing
a father since his mom is suicidal and clueless about the needs
of kids his age, goes to Will's home regularly to hang out,
seeking advice. The tables are turned when Will realizes that
while he'd make a lousy husband he just may have it in him to
be a father.
A story that could be milked for unctuousness and sitcom
sentimentality instead, under Paul and Chris Weitz's direction
turns out to be an honest, earthy look at the emptiness at the
center of a man's existence. They say that a neurotic begins to
recover only when he realizes how emotionally deprived he
really is. Will always knew himself to be shallow happy to
spend his days watching inane TV, feeding his fish and buying
things. But until his relationship with Marcus played by Nicholas
Holt as though he were a real human being and not some sort
of Teddy bear born from the imagination of a screenwriting
fabulist makes him realize deep down that (as the Talmud and
the Frankenstein monster and lots of others have said), it is no
good for a man to be alone.
Copyright © 2002 Harvey Karten