Review by Gordon Justesen
Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes, Robert Downey
Director: Curtis Hanson
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.0, French Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: March 13, 2001
There has hardly ever been a character piece as quirky and fascinating as Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys. The movie is filled left and right with fresh, original characterizations. The story consists of a series of strange incidents that occur during the weekend of a prestigious literary festival at a college in Pittsburgh.
At the center of the
film’s quirky world is Grady Tripp, played by magnificently restrained Michael
Douglas. Grady is a creative writing professor who is not very far from being
considered a has been in the writing world. Now in his 50s, Grady did hit
success once when his first novel, written seven years ago, became a huge best
seller. Nowadays Grady, whose wife has just left him, is close to rock bottom,
believed to have been stricken with writers block, constantly stoned on pot,
being aggravatingly pursued by his editor named Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.),
who keeps hounding Grady on his nearly completed new novel, having an affair
with Sara (Frances McDormand), who’s the wife of the head of the English
department, being slowly but surely pursued by Hannah (Katie Holmes), a female
student and becoming acquainted with another student, the extremely eccentric
James Leer (Tobey Maguire), who has a gift for writing, but turns out to be a
compulsive liar. In a brilliant scene, Leer is able to thoroughly recount the
number of celebrity suicides, without a single stutter.
Grady and Leer form
an unlikely alliance following the shooting of Sara’s dog who was attacking
Grady. The two then take the dog’s corpse and hide it in Grady’s trunk. The
night then consists of the two getting stoned off of codeine, disrupting a
presentation at the literary festival, and having a run-in with a man at a bar
who believes that the two have stolen his car, for which he later provides a
dent. The rest of the weekend isn’t much pleasant either, as Grady’s
troubles seem to escalate by the minute. The local police begin questioning him
in the events of the previous night, and possibly suspecting Leer took a
valuable piece from Sara’s home. Sara confesses to Grady about possible doubts
of the future of their adulterous relationship. All of these stressful events in
his life prevent Grady from completing his novel, which we see him attempt to do
in one scene under the most struggling circumstances.
I could go on to
reveal other plot points, but I feel as if I have revealed too much already. Wonder
Boys excels in its every moment. It achieves something that is rare to
accomplish, it mixes moments of screwball comedy and is still able to tell a
very poignant story of the fall of a true literary mind, and his struggle to
regain his talent and overcome his writers block. At the core of the film is the
relationship between Grady and Leer, both of which are, or were, writing
geniuses that also happen to have numerous flaws in their personal lives.
Leer’s flaws consists mainly of not being a very social person. Since Grady
and Leer can’t really relate to anyone presently, they are very much able to
relate to one another, and this relationship is perfected wonderfully throughout
The cast is simply
remarkable! Douglas has long been known for playing edgy characters under
extraordinary circumstances, and although Grady Tripp is a man under very
extraordinary circumstances, this character is totally 180 from any character
Douglas has ever played, and it shows. Tobey Maguire’s performance is pure
proof that he has arrived as a serious young actor. He has provided many
memorable performances in such films as The Ice Storm and The Cider
House Rules, but his performance in Wonder Boys is by far his most
remarkable. Robert Downey Jr. continues to be one of the most energetic and
underrated actors of our time, and his work here, especially in the movie’s
final moments is simply marvelous.
After the success of
the brilliant L.A. Confidential, director Curtis Hanson has fashioned yet
another wonderful movie, filled with terrific individual moments that add up to
a wholly enjoyable movie experience. There’s no wonder about it, Wonder
Boys is an absolute winner, and one of the year’s greatest movies.
TAKE A BOW, CURTIS!
First off, let me
just state for the record that this is the longest time I’ve ever waited for
the release of a single movie on DVD following a theatrical run, ever since Bulworth
nearly two years ago. Paramount had frequently been delaying the release of Wonder
Boys due to the desire of wanting to re-release it in theaters to generate
Oscar buzz. I missed this one in the theaters, unfortunately, but now I’m very
grateful that I finally got to see it. Now, on to the great news. A grand video
job from Paramount, who have applied all of their usual quality to this
transfer. The picture is thoroughly and consistently sharp and clear, and
deprived of any grain. Colors are displayed to true perfection, even in numerous
dark scenes. An A+ quality transfer that illustrates Paramount’s reign of
perfected DVD releases.
This movie is made up primarily of dialogue, and yet this audio transfer still shines. Paramount this time around has issued a 5.0 digital track instead of the usual 5.1, though I really couldn’t tell a distinction. Numerous songs are played throughout the movie, all of which are heard very clearly with immense digital quality. A nice surprise for such a film.
Paramount has issued
a pleasing array of extras for this long awaited release. Structured much like
the DVD for L.A. Confidential, this disc includes an interactive tour of
the setting of Wonder Boys, with director Curtis Hanson giving us some
insight into the history of the places in which he used to film certain scenes.
Also included is a interview segment titled “A Look Between the Pages”, a
section devoted to the soundtrack of the movie, which includes the music video
for Bob Dylan’s wonderful song from the film, “Things Have Changed”. Also
included is a trailer for the film as well.
is magnificently done character study of the unusual kind. Fans of true original
work are in for a knockout of a treat, filled to the brim with wonderful
performances, and grand directing from a rising directing prodigy.