Wonder Boys

Wonder_boys_poster“He’s fine. He’s narrating.”

The Scoop: 2000 R, directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes, and Frances McDormand

Tagline: Undependable. Unpredictable. Unforgettable.

Summary Capsule: Troubled English professor deals with a failed book, a dead dog and a mysterious student

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Justin’s Rating: MRFH: The Romance Novel!

Justin’s Review: Wonder Boys is a lot of things you’d expect but aren’t. It’s a decidedly college movie… featuring a 50-something guy. It’s mature in subject matters like affairs and lack of life direction… but then there’s a dead dog in the trunk and a James Brown-lookalike jumping on the hood. It’s got some deep spots of drama and dispair… but then lightens up to some genuine laugh-out-loud comedy. You’d expect it to be a lame life-restrospective that most entertainment-deprived critics love… but you’ll probably love it too.

Believe me, I’m just as surprised for writing this. An Academy Award underdog, Wonder Boys is a lot of things you wouldn’t expect, and it’s delightful to be surprised in a movie. The main character, Professor Tripp (Michael Douglas), barely has a grasp on his own life when he’s called on a series of adventures to assist others. His one successful novel demands a follow-up, but even with the aid of dope and a truly ugly pink bathrobe, he’s been unable to perform. Tripp’s love life is in similar shambles: his wife left him (again), he’s having an affair with the head of the English department’s wife (Francis McDormand), and his incredibly cute tenant, Hannah (Katie Holmes), is all but throwing herself at him. And he can’t deal with any of it.

When I said it was a college movie, I meant it. It’d be a lesser movie if you replaced some of the older characters with younger actors, but the spirit would be the same. It’s about needing to have direction, knowing where to go in their lives. When Tripp encounters extremely disturbed (or is he?) student James (Toby McGuire) at a party, a sequence of events triggers a series of road trips and desperate actions by desperate men.

Other than having my assumptions destroyed by this film, I really enjoyed the fine balance of narration and acts (Tripp does some voice-overs, but only enough to get us into the scene and aware of his thoughts), of some pretty heavy topics and spontaneous comedy. This type of film should be expected to have a couple laughs early on, but as the drama progresses the comedy usually dies. Well, this is no Dead Poets Society, fortunately (although that was a good film only slightly marred by a downer ending). Just when I thought that it was getting too dark, Wonder Boys takes a turn into something inspirational and hilarious.

Basically, it’s neigh-near impossible to properly describe this film. This is actually the second full review I’ve typed up, and I’m not totally satisfied with it either. I guess it comes down to that feeling when the credits rolled that I sat back in my chair and went, “Wow, that was *really* good”.

The original Avengers cast.

The original Avengers cast.

Intermission!

  • This movie was filmed in sequence (versus how most of films are shot, out of the order found in script)
  • The exterior of the sports shop is actually a local bowling alley; the same bowling alley that appears in the beginning of the film Kingpin.
  • The first sentence of the manuscript that Grady Tripp pulls from James Lear’s knapsack in the auditorium is actually the opening of the novel “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” by Michael Chabon.
  • James Ellroy, author of the novel L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson’s previous film), is an extra at the party in the home of the head of the English Department.
  • Rip Torn plays “Q” in this film after playing “Z” in Men in Black.
  • As seen on the movie rental receipt, James Leer’s local telephone number begins with the number one. However, local telephone numbers cannot begin with one, as that indicates a call to a different area code.

Groovy Quotes

Grady: She’s a transvestite.
Terry: You’re stoned.
Grady: She’s still a transvestite.

James: It’s just… for good luck. Some people carry rabbits’ feet…
Grady: …You carry firearms.

James: That’s a big trunk. It fits a tuba, a suitcase, a dead dog, and a garment bag almost perfectly.
Grady: That’s just what they used to say in the ads.

[Crabtree and a student drag James, hopped up on codeine, out of the auditorium.]
James: The doors made so much noise!
Grady: Is he all right?
James: It was so embarrasing! He had to be carried out.
Terry: He’s fine. He’s narrating.
James: They were going to the restroom. But would they make it in time?

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