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ABOUT A BOY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult
Directors: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: January 14, 2003

“Just the other the day, I was thinking about my ex, my son  came crawling up and  put his little pudgy arms around my neck and said, You hang in there, Dad.”

“God, that’s amazing for a two year old.”

“Is it?”

Film ****

Watching About a Boy, it occurred to me how long it had been since a single movie made me smile from beginning to end. A film that can be both uplifting and hysterically funny is a hard hybrid to make right, but this is one movie that knew how to mix in the elements right. The pacing of the film helps blend in the two elements nicely by starting off as a very funny movie, and slowly blending in the heartfelt side late into movie, which is always a risky gesture, but executed perfectly. Added to this is a remarkable lead performance that truly deserves Oscar attention, helping to make this one of the true best films of last year.

Adapted from the best seller by Nick Hornby, who also wrote High Fidelity, the film stars Hugh Grant in what is unquestionably his most terrific performance to date, as Will, a 38 year old proud to be bachelor. Will doesn’t work, and doesn’t need to, since his father happened to write a popular Christmas song, and Will’s been living off the royalties ever since. He doesn’t think he would make a good husband, and doesn’t want to settle down by any means. So what does he do to fulfill his bachelor wishes? By attending single parent meetings, which are made up completely of women. He claims to be the father of a two year old, which causes problems for him when he eventually garners a date. This date, though, results in a chance encounter with a young boy named Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), whose mom is a close friend of Will’s date.

As for Marcus, his life is pretty much in shambles. His mom, Fiona (Toni Collette) is consistently on the verge of suicide, and almost achieves it at one point, and he is the constant butt of jokes at the school he goes to. Though his mom’s current emotional state has caused him to mature a little bit for his given age, he takes a unique liking to Will, and soon sees him as the ideal father figure. It isn’t too long until Marcus is making visits to Will’s flat uninvited to spend time with the one person who makes him feel important.

For Will, though, this produces some challenging obstacles, most notably the overall fear of those unwanted emotions caving him in. But soon Will finds himself buying shoes for Marcus, as well as advising his mom to open her son to other areas of music besides ballads like “Killing Me Softly”, which she wants Marcus to sing at a school assembly, which Will knows will add insult to injury. And as it turns out, Will needs Marcus as well, though he may not want to admit it at first. The one thing Marcus indefinitely teaches Will to do is to be a little honest every now and then, which he has no doubt become by the film’s end.

This is simply a remarkably irresistible film, and it may appeal to just about anyone since it really isn’t as sappy and sentimental as the plot might suggest. It is indeed an original as far as comedies go. Grant is absolutely charming and witty as Will, who is someone at times, even I was able to relate to. Newcomer Nicholas Hoult is astounding as young Marcus, in a performance that dares to challenge the conventional kind of performance that we get from so many child stars. Hoult’s performance is consistently mature and subtle, and yet is still very memorable. And if there’s one moment that stands out, it’s Will and Marcus’ duet of “Killing Me Softly”, which is nothing short of a charming winner.

About a Boy is indeed one of the best films of last year. Funny, endearing, and irresistible every step of the way, this ranks as one of the most cheerful films in quite a while. It’s hard to realize that this came from that same directing team that was responsible for a whole different kind of comedy, American Pie, but Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz have proven themselves here as serious filmmakers.

Video ****

A pitch-perfect video presentation from Universal. The anamorphic transfer glows with amazing clarity and consistent sharp imaging. Picture is thoroughly crisp and clear, and colors are delivered with flawless naturalness. Indeed, one of the first great looking discs of the new year.

Audio ***

This is a film driven by dialogue, but the 5.1 mix does provide some very decent sound quality in several settings. There is also some very good music heard by the band Badly Drawn Boy, which is very much the high point of the sound transfer. And as for dialogue…no question, it’s delivered wonderfully.

Features ***1/2

A good enough packed disc from Universal offers some nice extras, including a running commentary from Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, a Spotlight on Location featurette, seven deleted scenes with optional director commentary, two music videos by Badly Drawn Boy, an English to English Dictionary, the complete lyrics to Santa’s Sleigh Ride, a trailer, and some DVD-Rom material.

Summary:

About a Boy had me smiling and laughing and nothing else. It is a remarkable and very touching comedy, headlined by a strikingly funny performance from Hugh Grant. Very much one of last year’s true best.