**½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B
starring Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, Isabel Brook
tscreenplay by Peter Hedges and Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz, based on the novel by Nick Hornby
directed by Paul Weitz & Chris Weitz
by Walter Chaw Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) is a philanderer and a playboy. Independently wealthy because of residuals from his father's authorship of an inexplicably successful Christmas tune, he spends his feckless days in carefully scheduled thirty-minute "units." (One unit for taking a bath; three for lunch.) Finally feeling a void in the middle of his rootless life at the tender age of thirty-eight, Will--after a scheme to feign single-parentage backfires roughly--finds himself involved with a mordant thirteen-year-old named Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) and Marcus's suicidally-depressed mother, Fiona (Toni Collette). Rachel Weisz plays the girl too good for the pre-evolution rapscallion, her late appearance ultimately best described as the plot point that drives act three.
The third filmed adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel in as many years (after Fever Pitch and High Fidelity), the Weitz Brothers' About a Boy plays a great deal like a cross between a Robert Cormier novel and a Michael Chabon one. It's eternally on the verge of collapsing beneath the weight of its plot (one that requires not one but two voiceovers), yet it constantly trumps convention through brilliant casting and by avoiding the "teen make-over" hokum and the "mom make-over" jive. Still, About a Boy falters before its carefully constructed schmaltz finale and the ever-predictable pull of the cad-redemption formula, leaving it uneven and uncertain though not without its bursts of Noel Coward dryness.
Grant has come into his own as the kind of cad that Cary Grant used to play: debonair, dashing, and pathologically kinderphobic. He's discarded the need to be likable in favour of refining his delivery and timing, enough so that a potentially disastrous moment of redemption comes off as the cleverest use of Roberta Flack...ever. Collette continues with her string of compelling and distinct performances, handily usurping Cate Blanchett (who suffered a particularly bad year in 2001) as our most promising actress in the process. The script is smart (although Hornby's source material is smarter), and the performances are economical and graceful.
But I wasn't involved by a great deal of the middle portion of the film. Whether that disinterest is a product of a familiarity with the formula or a problem in the spacing of jokes, I'm not certain: the failures of the piece aren't of the glaring variety. I wanted more from About a Boy because About a Boy seemed more capable of providing it than almost any other comedy I've seen in a long time. One scene in particular in which the Weisz love-interest's son confesses an Oedipal fixation demonstrates a level of courage and sophistication that's missing from the rest of the acerbic but oddly sanitized script. About a Boy as a consequence is really just "good"--that it'll probably be the best and most mature comedy of the 2002 summer season speaks more of the season than of the picture. Originally published: May 17, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Universal Home Video presents About a Boy on DVD in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer* that looks fine. The image is a fraction too caliginous, and while this doesn't have an impact on contrast, it does seem to draw attention to some mild edginess--not so much so that it inhibits one's enjoyment of the film, however. (A separate fullscreen version is also available.) The Dolby Digital 5.1 track lends tight bass support to Badly Drawn Boy's acoustic score; dialogue is razor sharp, which should decrease the number of complaints from viewers who experience difficulty deciphering the English accents. (If you still have trouble, there's always the supplemental "English to English" dictionary.) In all, a warm, pleasant mix.
Extras include a chatty, slightly irreverent feature-length yakker with Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, who know the film backwards and forwards. They're a little too preoccupied with Will's caddishness, though, and preferable as orators in their commentary over a 14-minute block of nine ("hilarious," quoth the cover art) Deleted Scenes; the best of these--all of which are in 4:3 letterbox--is an extended montage of Will shopping for baby supplies. The Weitzes are interviewed in a surprisingly okay "Spotlight on Location" featurette on the film (11 mins.), and it's here that we get face-time with the author of About a Boy's source novel, Nick Hornby. The only pressing matter left unaddressed by this making-of is where did the British Rachel Weisz's accent disappear to?
Badly Drawn Boy gets his day in court in a 30-minute MTV Europe special ("Born in the U.K.", the title an intentional play on Springsteen, one of BDB's major influences) hosted by England's answer to Carson Daly, the irritating Zane Lowe. BDB is reserved, crazy for his kids, and wants people to stop comparing him to Beck--he hired Beck's producer while writing songs for About a Boy in order to illustrate the differences between the two musicians. (Videos for Badly Drawn Boy's "Silent Sigh" and "Something to Talk About" are also on board.) Rounding out this stacked disc that was denied, for reasons unfathomable, the 'Collector's Edition' label: a "Santa's Super Sleigh" sing-along; trailers for Johnny English, About a Boy, A Beautiful Mind, Erin Brokovich, The Family Man, Meet the Parents, and Notting Hill; productions notes; and select cast/crew biographies and filmographies. Originally published: January 17, 2003.