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About a Boy

Gen X Review About a Boy

 

Sometimes you don’t know how empty life is until someone comes along and fills it.

 

The new film About a Boy is actually about how people find meaning in their lives and the intimate connections that bind us together. This fairly sarcastic film about narcissistic, selfish, obsessive people has a surprising amount of emotional depth, tenderness and humor.

Thirty-eight-year-old bachelor Will (Hugh Grant) considers himself an island. He’s the kind of seducer Oscar Wilde would applaud -- A cad who is sophisticated in an utterly superficial sort of way. He lives an uncomplicated life devoted to low-level hedonism such as buying CDs, playing pool and wooing middle-aged women into his bed.

Will doesn’t expect much of himself and doesn’t have any real committed relationships. “I don’t actually do anything,” he says, with equal parts self-deprecating humor and absurd pride. His days are occupied listening to music and playing along to television game shows, but he’s not lonely because he doesn’t expect or desire companionship.


Will stumbles onto a gold mine when he is fixed up with a single mom. Riddled with guilt over not trying to reconcile her relationship with her child’s biological father, the mom breaks up with Will just as the slacker is planning on ending things himself, thus sparing him the inconvenience of appearing like an insensitive clod. The relationship convinces Will that he should date singles moms and he joins S.P.A.T. (Single Parents, Alone Together) in pursuit of more divorcees.


He dreams of becoming “cool uncle Will, king of the kids” and engaging in intense, short-term relationships.


Pretending to have an infant son of his own, Will attaches himself to the group and eventually meets Suzie (Victoria Smurfit). On one of his dates with Suzie and her daughter, Will is introduced to Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a strange 12-year-old boy. Suzie is watching the boy for her best friend Fiona (Toni Collette) and when they drop Marcus off at his house they’re thrust into a very personal, emotional scene.


Human life is messy sometimes, and Will is happy to leave the unhappy little family, but Marcus trails him, showing up at Will’s apartment after school. Will finds himself entangled in Marcus’ life, which isn’t quite what the bachelor expected when he signed up for the support group. To make matters even worse, Marcus is a weird boy with pointy eyebrows, Eddy Munster hair and odd and old grandma clothes. He’s just the kind of kid we all thought we were in seventh grade.


Will and Marcus bond against all odds, but things complicate when Will tries to pass the boy off as his son in order to foster a relationship with another single parent. Fiona falls into a deep depression and just as Marcus begins to make friends at his school he signs up to perform in a battle of the bands, where he hopes to sing his mom’s favorite song, “Killing me Softly” in order to cheer her up.


You won’t find a character you won’t like in About a Boy. At his calculating worst Will is still mostly just a child and Marcus is charmingly offbeat. Fiona is psychologically flawed, hopelessly idealistic, and in some ways harmful to her own son, but she is also a fully constituted human being.


Grant has never been better. Devilishly shallow, Will is completely charming despite the fact that his is mostly vacant. Like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, Grant treads the difficult road between intensely clever and essentially empty. These are the kinds of characters who study Men’s Health, GQ and Vogue the way philosophers read Nietzsche. Hoult is likewise enthralling as Marcus, who has the uncanny ability to make adults feel slowwitted and dull without making childhood appear to be a basket full of rainbow clichés, either.


About a Boy doesn’t take shortcuts. Will does not step out from behind his stylish shoes and stylized disheveled hair and convey some ponderous truth about the modern condition, yada, yada, yada, and Marcus is not a stand-in for Ricky Shroeder, ie. the generic cute kid. These are fleshy humans, wearing themselves for all to see, the kinds of people you meet everyday while doing your laundry.


The movie isn’t really a love story -- since it’s about community-building, not pair bonding -- but love is its hidden theme. Without love Will’s life is really just a routine of pretty empty gestures. And although love may be all you need, sometimes you need a little help from your friends, too.


About a Boy is about the ways we drive each other mad and the things that save us in the end. Sometimes we only find out who we are by meeting someone else.

 

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