You can't call About a Boy a romantic comedy, as the central relationship is between 12-year-old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) and 38-year-old Will (Hugh Grant) -- and it's no NAMBLA-approved love affair. Instead, the adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel is a coming-of-age film, with each male behaving boyishly and teaching the other how to be a grown-up.
Ranking the film alongside other versions of popular British novels, it falls roughly between the adaptations of Hornby's High Fidelity and Bridget Jones's Diary. Boy lacks the pop savvy and character insight of the former, but isn't nearly as thin or Hollywoodized as the latter.
A cleverly conceived trust fund keeps Will from needing a career, and Grant's usual above-it-all acting style nicely suits his role's attitude of shallow self-sufficiency. Will is delighted to discover that single mothers make perfect short-term romantic partners, as they inevitably have too much on their plate for committed relationships. He begins haunting the support group SPAT (Single Parents Alone Together) to pick up women, and invents an imaginary son to justify his presence.
At a picnic Will meets Marcus, a socially maladjusted youngster persecuted at his school. Marcus suffers from the love of his perfectly embarrassing mother Fiona (Toni Collette), an unreconstructed hippie, who knits him caps with plenty of tassels and flaps. Hoult, suitably chagrined by his dorky clothes and bowl haircut, projects Marcus' wounded feelings and his eagerness to conceal his hurt. When Fiona survives a suicide attempt, Marcus and Will make a brief personal connection, and consequently the boy begins dropping by Will's flat to watch British game shows.
The book's title hinges on a reference to Kurt Cobain, whose music and suicide were a recurring motif that the film, directed by Chris and Paul Weitz, abandons. But About a Boy includes some of Hornby's affinity for pop songs, as when Will, nervous about Marcus' uninvited presence, imagines the boy approaching in sinister slow-motion to the crunchy intro of "Zoo Station" from U2's Achtung Baby. Later Will introduces Marcus to what's fashionably hip, with Mystikal's song "Shake Ya Ass" providing fodder for maybe one joke too many.
In a more conventional movie, Will and Fiona would be the proverbial opposites that attract. Realistically, they never develop a romantic interest, with Will falling for another single mom (The Mummy's Rachel Weisz), and finds himself torn between playing his usual ruse and telling the truth.
Weisz is level but likable, while Collette provides the film's crucial performance. Her affections -- for Marcus, for ghastly outfits, for the song "Killing Me Softly With His Song" -- are all sincere but too passionate, setting her up for crushing disappointments. If Collette had treated Fiona as a joke, the entire film could have collapsed.
So many mainstream movies argue for individuality and being yourself that About a Boy seems almost radical by advocating the reverse. One of the film's "significant" shots has Will, out of place in a bulky parka, moving against the crowd of business-suited commuters. The implicit message is that conformity is the key to happiness and that Marcus and Will would be better off by joining the masses.
About a Boy relies too heavily on the device of having Grant and Hoult as tag-team narrators, but it generously gives the youngster a strong credible voice. The film is no more edgy than A Christmas Carol, but the unlikely friendship at its center wins us over. Echoing Will's feelings for Marcus, we grow to like About a Boy, no matter how uncool it can be.
A new film group centered around the Golden Age of Comedy is being organized in…
No carl, it does not. In English, the possessive of a proper name which ends…