Saturday, December 26, 2009
About a Boy is a curious little film, a comedy-drama with a sneaking desire to be better than your average heart-warmer, but at the same time, it never really shows a longing to truly challenge the audience. The film is directed by Chris and Paul Weitz, and was adapted from a best-selling novel by Nick Hornby. The first half of this thing is terrific. It is funny, even hysterical at times, and it introduces a couple of well-defined characters. Unfortunately, the third act threatens to diminish all of the charm of the first hour, and nearly does so.
In his best performance to date, Hugh Grant stars as Will, a 38-year-old nobody. His father once wrote a famous Christmas song, and Will lives off the royalties. He's never held a job, and he isn't interested in anything more than two or three-week relationships. He spends his days smoking, bathing, watching television, and figuring out ways to pick up attractive single women. He loves his life, and almost seems to be amused when his married friends lecture him about having a purpose in life. Will could care less.
One day, he is set up with an attractive young woman. When Will finds out this woman is a single mother, he is frightened at first, but as the relationship develops, he begins to realize the benefits of dating single moms. He starts going to meetings for single parents. He invents a two-year-old kid named "Ned" and a wife who left him for his best friend. He easily wins the hearts of the other parents in the group, and scores a date with Suzie (Victoria Smurfit).
They meet one day to have a picnic. Of course, "Ned" can't make it, but Suzie brings her child and the son of one of her friends, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). Marcus is a complex, 12-year-old boy, largely because of his disturbed mother, Fiona (Toni Collette). His mom has seemingly never gotten over her previous divorce, and she has trouble raising the consistently-bullied Marcus to be a normal, social kid.
When Will walks into his life, Marcus sees an opportunity. If he can find a man for his mom to date, perhaps she won't be so sad all of the time. Unsurprisingly, Will isn't interested in a depressed, broken woman, so Marcus begins to take things into his own hands. He starts to hang out at Will's place after school. At first, they watch television in silence, but their relationship develops into something interesting. This is where the film is at its best. Will and Marcus are both interesting characters and it is fascinating to see how their relationship affects each other.
Where the film isn't at its best is when the character of Rachel (Rachel Weisz) is introduced. Will meets this woman at a party and is immediately taken with her. He has feelings for her that extend beyond the usual three-week radius, but he gets cold feet when he tries to commit to a real relationship. Weisz is a fine actress, but this part was very poorly written, and it is arguably where the film loses itself. The Weitz brothers and co-writer Peter Hedges resort to dramedy formula, and it's almost painful to watch. The first hour of this film is extremely well done, which makes the dreadfully formulaic third act all the more disappointing. The film becomes laughable for all the wrong reasons.
Hugh Grant saves this film from being a complete waste of time. Hoult does a solid job playing Marcus, but Grant steals the show here. In the opening scenes of the film, Grant is absolutely hysterical as he introduces the ins and outs of his character. There are some priceless dinner sequences, and watching him make up "Ned" at the single parents' meeting is a delight. It's certainly his most memorable character to date, but the terribly underwritten supporting characters keep this film from being in the top tier of the genre.
A lot of mainstream viewers will be pleased with this picture. It's an entertaining, funny, predictable film that will give a lot of audiences exactly what they want. But the third act of this thing is so poorly done it makes me wonder how the same people could have written the delightful first hour. I challenge anyone to look at the final image of this film and truly believe it. I felt cheated.