About a Boy at first flush seems like a fluff film that isn’t even really a chick-flick. I had it sent because of Toni Collette. I have a list of favorite actors/actresses (more of the female variety usually) and I add their films to my Netflix list pretty much without regard to what it is. I had some pause before adding About a Boy because 1) at first flush it is a fluff film and 2) Hugh Grant is in it. (As an example of something very rare for me, I couldn’t finish Love Actually specifically because of Hugh Grant. So I gritted my metaphorical and real teeth and pushed play.
I didn’t hate it.
Cineastes, I think by and large, are viewed as a pretentious lot. I think this is true of all of us at one time or another (by this I mean everyone, but you can point to cineastes in particular if you like). We eschew the predictable unless there is or are some truly great performances or other compelling reason. One of us going to About a Boy would look about the same as the men who used to go with upturned camel hair collars into the so-called “art films.”
Yes the film is predictable. Yes Hugh Grant is the usual fop. Other than that, the film takes a different tack and it is just different enough to rescue it from any trash bin.
The aptly named Will Freeman (Mr. Grant) lives entirely off the royalties of a schmaltzy Christmas song his father had written decades previously. He does literally nothing. He divides his desultory days into units of 30 minutes so that he can feel that he is doing something. He is a vacuous one-night-stand expert. He realizes, soon and by accident that single women with children are starved for all sorts of attention, so he invents a child and starts wooing just such a woman. In the meantime he meets Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) who is a misfit to the point that event the misfits shun him. Upon returning Marcus home, Will sees that Marcus’s mother Fiona (Ms. Collette) has attempted suicide. Literally for entirely invented reasons, Marcus insinuates himself into Will’s days. This continues on and on in a relatively predictable way throughout the remainder of the film.
The question is whether it is worth the 100 minutes. The answer is a qualified yes. The analysis will explain the reasons for caution.
First, Will narrates his inner thoughts; Marcus narrates his own. I have always considered this to be weak writing and/or acting. Mr. Hoult plays the almost hyper-vigilant never fit in kid which is the butter to this story; Mr. Grant provides the predictable toast for this story. I’ve never been a fan of the “show don’t tell” command given writers (there are far too many decent and great authors who dispense with this rule altogether); however, for movies you have the option of allowing the actors to indicate what is going on without the intrusive narration. One or two voices-overs are fine, but throughout . . .? It is consistent, but that is the best that can be said.
Mr. Hoult plays a poor analog of Haley Joe Osment (interestingly enough, Marcus mentions him in one of Marcus’s early scenes). He, like Mr. Osment is trying either to care for or behave in a way that is un-childlike for their mother (played by Ms. Collette in both films). This is just another piece of “seen it before.” The difference here is that Fiona is not Lynn. Lynn was trying to understand her son where Fiona is lost in deep depression and Marcus is the one doing all the work (not just some as with The Sixth Sense). Despite not having the strength of Mr. Osment, Mr. Hoult does not totally disappoint.
Mr. Grant . . . Fop, I think, was a word waiting for one person to point to; once Hugh Grant started being a fop, the word needed look no further for a poster boy. The oblivious and blinking mostly fool is the same here as in all other movies (minus Impromptu unless my memory fails me there). He is rescued by the performances of those around him.
Even still, it is not a bad feel-good movie. If you can handle a mostly predictable plot, what I think is excessive narration, and Hugh Grant, you won’t be disappointed. I still have to wonder whether you will be more than just mildly entertained.
What did you think of this review?