About A Boy
About A Boy – 2002

Directors Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Screenplay Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz based on the book by Nick Hornby
Starring Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz

The list of movies I have been putting off is shrinking by the day. Add another classic to the list. This movie is all about the hugging and the learning, but with a Nick Hornby inspired script and Hugh Grant’s biting self-analysis, About A Boy is a movie that show us art can be entertaining and fulfilling.

The story finds Grant as Will Freeman, a happily single womanizer who has just discovered a new lane of easy access to women: single moms. His attempts line him up with a woman who is friends with another single mom (Collette) who has a teenage boy (Hoult) who is a soft hearted sweetheart. A lesser story would have had a wacky meet cute, a laugh at the cad’s expense and a last minute race to the airport. This story avoids the tropes and drives right into the ditch.

As Neil Young describes: it’s a rough ride, where one sees more interesting people here.

One of the people is the eternally severe, depressed and suicidal Collette. She’s such a head case, it’s shocking. Fortunately, the script doesn’t treat her like a victim. We get to see the effect it has when she makes repeated bad decisions, placing the weight of the world on her son Marcus, who’s already behind the eight ball.

The significance of the plot is that it doesn’t rely on serendipity to move forward. It’s all the hard work of young Marcus, who understands the definition of vulnerable after his mother returns from the hospital. He forces his way into Will’s life through sheer force of a desire for support. In all of this, we’re spared the psychological mumbo jumbo that most people don’t take the time in life to understand.

Instead, we are given symbols of islands, blank people and empty lives. No one perfect thing is said, but several blunt truths are revealed. There is not so much hugging and learning. It’s just being there.

Grant deserves extra praise for once more reinventing himself. He has found a way to increase his range, but never quite seem like the perfect person in front of the camera. He’s not quite the soft gentleman, willing to learn like he was before he was caught with Divine Brown. This is a person well acquainted with disappointment and disappointing people. It makes him much more relatable.

Nicholas Hoult is delightful as the young boy. His openness is refreshing, as is his characters outlook at his problems with school mates. He’s not going to find a magical cure. He’s not going to take Thunder Road either. He’s doing the best he can to get the bad stuff out of his mind. It may not be clinically approved behavior, but the wheel keeps turning.

This is the rare kind of film that exists right alongside its audience. Per usual, Hornby makes characters who are relatable and entertaining. It’s never comfortable in a sentimental way. It brings us to the precipice and threatens to go over into misery or bliss. It doesn’t present any of its events as the final doom. Life may not be perfect for any of these characters. It has a good chance to improve as they stay in each other’s lives.

(***** out of *****)

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