About A Boy (2002) – movie review

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Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Annabelle Apsion
Directors: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz

So it starts, the Bridget Jones backlash. And about time too for here is a film that shows that men are just as emotionally screwed up as women and suffer from the same agonising over relationships and commitment as their jaded female counterparts.

Following FEVER PITCH and HIGH FIDELITY, ABOUT A BOY is the third novel by British writer Nick Hornby to be adapted into a film. It tells the story of Will (Hugh Grant), a single thirty-something intent on remaining responsible only to his cool, child-free, hedonistic lifestyle, living off hereditary wealth and dating women. In his perpetual quest to notch up numbers on his bedpost he has the brilliant idea of inventing a son, joining a single parent support group and preying on unsuspecting single mothers. It is through this he meets Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), the 12-year old son of hippie manic depressive, Fiona (Toni Collette). From reluctant beginnings, Will and Marcus forge a firm friendship as Will advises his protege on how to be cool at school. Marcus, in turn, exposes the shortcomings of Will’s emotion-free existence and he finally learns what was missing from his life. But when Will finally meets Rachel (Rachel Weisz) and falls in love, the superficiality of his past ways catches up with him and he realises just how empty his life is. So when Rachel learns of his dishonest ways, is it all too late?

ABOUT A BOY really is about a boy. It’s about the boy in the man and the man in the boy – even the soundtrack, which is great incidentally, is by Badly Drawn Boy. Joking aside, this is a wonderful, well-rounded story. There is a balance and maturity to this film that captures just the right amount of touching emotional drama without saccharine-sweet sentimentality. Perhaps the biggest surprise comes from the fact that it was directed by the Weitz brothers, better known for teen sex comedy, AMERICAN PIE (another film all about boys).

What best describes this film is balance. Hugh Grant stretches beyond what Hugh Grant does (you’re either a fan or you’re not) – his typical cynical witticisms are still there but they are balanced perfectly by the later emotional journey of the character as he realises what his life has been missing. Similarly, there’s a balance to the story’s narration with voice-overs from both Will and Marcus giving us a measured perspective of the motives of each character. Post Bridget Jones, it may be a male-orientated romantic comedy but there’s also just the right weight given to the women in the film too. Collette and Weisz, as well as the peripheral female characters, give us the range of female perspectives towards life, love and relationships.

It’s not without its low points, however, and there’s a number of moments in the film where the script and performances are a little rough round the edges. And, for that matter, Grant’s north London accent is poor to say the least – then again, I wouldn’t have even noticed it if I hadn’t been told in the production notes beforehand. But, and I say again, story-wise as layer on layer is added there is momentum that carries you to a fantastic finale: it’s a happy lump-in-throat ending to a charming film and you’ll come out of the cinema on an absolute feel good high.

5 out of 6 stars