About A Boy [Retro Review]

“I think I killed a duck!”

The Scoop: 2002 PG-13, directed by Chris and Paul Weitz and starring Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Nicholas Hoult and Rachel Weisz

Tagline: Growing up has nothing to do with age.

Summary Capsule: Man and boy develop a very non-NAMBLA relationship

Justin’s Rating: Bloody blood!

Justin’s Review: Who would’ve thunk it: I’m laughing during a Hugh Grant movie. And not just laughing, but laughing in large, Sam’s Club-type quantities.

This is a story about a man. A man who is self-absorbed, completely lazy and without any sense of morality. This is also a story about a boy. A boy who is “different” in many ways, who doesn’t fit in at school and who has a suicidal mother. The man is Will (Grant), a guy who’s living off his father’s royalties and is perfectly happy to do nothing for his entire life. I guess he idolizes Office Space. During his quest to hook up with single mothers (due to their neediness — yeah, he’s not that honorable), Will gets saddled with an unexpected friendship with the boy, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). So what happens when you have the most unabashedly selfish man in the universe mentor a kid who calls you on every attempt at B.S.? You get complete bedlam and a really touching story (eww… emotions…).

Narration is a double-edged sword and usually hated by most critics. On one hand, it can be a terrific way to ease your viewer into the movie and include them in an intimate level like nothing else can. On the other flipper, it can easily be abused and free-based to the point of maddening. If it’s done well, I generally like it — The Shawshank Redemption comes to mind — but in About A Boy, we get something sort of unique (at least in my experience) in the field of narration. Dueling narratives. Both Will and Marcus have their own competing narrative tracks, often at times overlapping and dancing in some sort of silent duet. I liked that. It gave both characters a load more depth.

About A Boy absolutely shocked me. To tell the truth, I was having a fairly crappy day and adjusting to my brand new glasses after seven years of contacts (call me Mr. Three Eyes from now on), and reluctantly popped in this rental. To be laughing wildly and smiling in empathy throughout the whole flick was surprising, to say the least. How come nobody told me this was a good movie? It’s a bit like Bridget Jones’s Diary, what with the inner dialogue and the British humor and very strange people, but it’s not quite a male version of that film either.

This movie is incredibly quotable, because both Will and Marcus are abnormalities. In their own ways, they say whatever’s on their mind — Will simply doesn’t care about other’s feelings, and Marcus doesn’t understand the subtleties of adult interactions — and it makes for a terrific show.

I guess the best way to describe and recommend this movie is that it’s a great romance movie without the romance. These two people are hurting, each in their own way. Will is content to be a “blank” for his entire life, living but not really making any difference in any way. Marcus has one of those tender and creative souls that make you love him, but also makes for easy target practice in the cut-throat world of school. Will’s early treatise that “each man can be an island” is broken down, bit by bit, as these two form a strange but functional family.

Dude, seriously, see it. Get your date to see it. Lacking a date, an attentive dog or cat will do. Hey, lacking even that, get friendly with a telemarketer and invite them over. Whatever the situation, it’s not a film to be missed for any reason other than a stubborn desire to not see a darn good flick.

Kyle’s Rating: Obviously, Will is based completely on me!

Kyle’s Review: Unlike Justin, I was a little more prepared to enjoy this movie because I knew anything created by or via Nick Hornby pretty much has to be good (see: High Fidelity). So while I wasn’t surprised that About a Boy was incredibly great, I was surprised that upon repeat viewing, I’ve found that I absolutely love the “About a” parts and can’t stand the “Boy” parts. Weird, eh?

Seriously! Nicholas Hoult is great as Marcus, the young and much-troubled child who deals with a crazy mother (the crazy Toni Collette) and the seeming destiny of always being alone. But he grates on me. Is it the Spock eyebrows? Is it just that I’m so similar to Will (Hugh Grant) that I fear a child like this latching onto me? Actually, I think there was a kid that followed me around once, but due to my tendency to jaywalk I think he might have gotten hit by a car. Am I saying I wanted Marcus to get hit by a vehicle? Not consciously, I suppose. But now that About a Boy is mine on DVD, I certainly speed through a lot of the solo Marcus stuff. Bleh!

On the other hand, the Will portions are 100% solid gold. Grant just makes the character so real and plays it so perfect that I’m cheering for the guy even as he runs through life without emotional attachment and presumably putting quite a few women through tearful breakup dinners. Good show, Will! When he’s a selfish dude, it’s cool, and when he’s slowly learning through Marcus what it means to let other people into one’s life and to care, that’s cool, too!

About a Boy is really incredible. It’s touching, it’s funny, it has tragic elements that get softened but not forgotten in the humor, and for women who are obsessed with me it’s a helpful guide to my personality because I am Will and Will is me. I’m slowly getting in Sketchers, and those are great, too! About a Boy is also impressively literate and dramatic in a nicely subtle way, so don’t be afraid that you’ll cry or be bored while you watch it. If you dug High Fidelity and you can handle Britishisms, go for it today! Just keep your eyebrows in check if they veer towards the Vulcan, okay?

Yeah, it looks like a football, but what's that smell?

Intermission!

  • They’re driving on the wrong side of the road! Oh noooooooo!
  • At the beginning of the film Marcus says he would be able to take care of his mum (Toni Collette) if he were Haley Joel Osment. Toni Collette played Haley Joel Osment’s mother in the Sixth Sense.
  • In Ali’s room (Rachel’s son), you can see a flag for the football (soccer) team Arsenal. Nick Hornby, author of the book on which the movie is based is a die-hard Arsenal supporter.
  • Will states in the narration that, as a result of the events at the Christmas meal, first Marcus met a girl and then he did. The meal happens at Christmas and Will meets his girl at a New Year’s Eve party. In between times Marcus meets Ellie in school. But in the UK there is no school between Christmas and New Year.
  • Brad Pitt turned down the lead role of Will Freeman on the grounds that it was implausible that someone so attractive would need to pretend to be a single father to meet women.
  • This film was based on a novel by Nick Hornby, who also wrote “High Fidelity”.

Groovy Quotes

    Marcus: Oh, don’t worry, I think your mum is keen on him.
    Ali: She’s not keen on him! She’s only keen on me! Will: The thing is, a person’s life is like a TV show. I was the star of The Will Show. And The Will Show wasn’t an ensemble drama. Guests came and went, but I was the regular. It came down to me and me alone. If Marcus’ mum couldn’t manage her own show, if her ratings were falling, it was sad, but that was her problem. Ultimately, the whole single mum plotline was a bit complicated for me. 

    Marcus: He fancies you. He told me.

    Christine: You will end up childless and alone.
    Will: Well, fingers crossed, yeah.

    Will: This crying in the morning thing, this depression, let’s get that fixed.

    Will: I was in some strange territory. Was I frightened? I was petrified.

    Will: I am an island. I am bloody Ibiza!

    Lindsey’s Mum: ‘Shake your Ass’….is he Moroccan?

    Will: I’d be the worst possible Godfather. I’d probably drop her on her head at her christening. I’d forget all her birthdays until she was 18. Then I’d take her out and get her drunk. And, let’s face it, quite possibly try and shag her.

    Will: Once you open your door to one person anyone can come in.

    Marcus: I think I killed a duck!

    Will: [at a single parents meeting] I’ll tell you one thing. Men are bastards. After about ten minutes I wanted to cut my *own* penis off with a kitchen knife.

    Fiona: Will, am I a bad mother?
    Will: No. No, you’re not a bad mother. You’re just a barking lunatic.

    Fiona: I mean, he’s a special – very, very special boy and he’s got a special soul, and I’ve wounded it.
    Will: Oh, please, just shut up. You’re wounding my soul.

    Christine: Oh, no…it’s just I thought you had hidden depths.
    Will: No, no, you’ve always had that wrong about me. I really am this shallow.

    Will: In my opinion, all men are islands. And what’s more, now’s the time to be one. This is an island age.

    Fiona: He’s expressing himself!
    Will: No, he’s not! He’s expressing YOU!

    Marcus: Suddenly I realized – two people isn’t enough. You need backup. If you’re only two people, and someone drops off the edge, then you’re on your own. Two isn’t a large enough number. You need three at least.

    Will: It helps to think of the day as units of time, each unit consisting of thirty minutes. Most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath. Doing the crossword. Exercising. Three units. Carefully trimming my perfectly unkempt hair, two units, easy. All in all, I had a very full life.

    Will: It was terrible! Terrible! But driving really fast behind the ambulance was fantastic!

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Ten Romantic Comedies Actually Worth Watching « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  2. Pingback: American Dreamz [Retro Review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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