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Review written by: Alex Sandell
After finding out Rachel Weisz was in the
film, I started wishing they would have
switched leads and changed the title to,
"About a Girl".
About a Boy has just enough producers, co-producers and executive producers to claim that it's, "from the makers of" practically any film that's been released over the past 10 years. Although they could have picked from High Heels and Low Lifes, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Sid and Nancy, Blade II, Loch Ness, or even 40 Days and 40 Nights, the advertising team scanned the credits of the numerous producers involved with the film and realized that they could strike marketing gold by claiming that About a Boy is, "from the people who brought you Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary."
What this advertising campaign leads us to believe is that this is the fourth quirky British romantic comedy featuring Hugh Grant and written by screenwriter Richard Curtis, who did in fact type out Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary, but had absolutely nothing to do with About a Boy. If the people behind the commercials were a little more honest, and actually told us who created the film, rather than who paid for it, we would have been told that it is, "from the people who brought you Antz, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, and American Pie." Somehow I doubt that group of titles would attract the film's target audience in quite the same way. The question is, once the target audience gets a whiff of the advertising scheme the marketing machine has been cookin', will they walk away disappointed in the film, or can the guys who made humping apple pies famous actually pull off a Richard Curtis romance that wasn't written by Richard Curtis?
If the opinion of the lady I attended the screening with is any indication, the Weitz brothers, the directing team behind American Pie, have actually pulled it off. This lady, a good friend of mine, but a little bullheaded when it comes to comedies (she seems to like every one that someone drags her to, but still denies that she likes the genre, as a whole), hasn't seen either American Pie, but is convinced that she wouldn't like them. She has seen Richard Curtis's romantic comedies, and thinks that they're great. What did she think of About a Boy? She loved it. Almost as much as she'd love American Pie or American Pie 2 if she'd go into either of them with an open mind. What makes me so sure, you ask? It has something to do with the fact that on the surface this looks and sounds like a Richard Curtis written romantic comedy, but if you peel away the gloss, you'll notice it has the depth of American Pie or Antz.
Curtis's films are usually spiced up with believable characters, dramatic scenes that just about anyone can relate to, and some profound life changing event(s) that put the movies he writes slightly above your typical romantic comedy fare. A film by the Weitz's usually forgoes any of the serious stuff and goes for the guffaws. In About a Boy, the brothers try to add some drama to their comedy, but it's to mixed effect.
Although the boys behind the camera are trying to grow as filmmakers, they really can't balance comedy and tragedy in the way that Curtis can. The serious moments in the film -- a boy at school not fitting in, a mother attempting suicide, a self-centered man going through women like an alcoholic goes through a bottle of Schnapps' -- really fall flat. The Weitz brothers handled the serious sections of the script in much the same way as the guy spitting out jokes at a funeral handles his depression; through the pursuit of laughs at the most inappropriate of times.
It didn't seem quite right to have a young boy (Nicholas Hoult) watching his mother (Toni Collette, a wonderful actress shamefully relegated to a near cameo role) so miserable that she spends most of her days at home alone crying, while her son cracks jokes about it in the narration. The film gets even more absurd when the mother actually attempts to kill herself -- her motives are never explained -- and none of her friends and neighbors do anything to intervene after the fact. There is no counseling, no treatment, and not even a hug and a "get well" card. The most we get is the son dryly thanking his mother for the suicide note she wrote him. Again, he does nothing but crack wise.
Thank god the wisecracks are funny. The saving grace of this picture is in its comedic moments. The Weitz brothers may not have the first clue as to how to breathe a sense of realism into a dramatic scene, but they definitely have a handle on how to make a fast-moving film that is good for some mindless entertainment and a few dozen, not-quite-sidesplitting, laughs. It doesn't hurt that they brought Peter Hedges - a man who proved himself a master of the "dramedy" with the seminal, What's Eating Gilbert Grape - along for the ride, as the film's "other" screenwriter.
The biggest chuckles come from the double-narration in the movie. Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult crisscross their narration throughout the film, and manage to do it in a humorous way that doesn't bog down the picture. The directors (and Hedges - whose fingerprints are all over this thing) are definitely taking the easy way out, using narration as a device to connect the two central characters, rather than letting the audience connect the characters themselves, but they play it up for maximum effect, and it works.
Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult are both essentially playing the title character in the film. One is a young teenager who has never had the chance to be a kid, and the other is a 38-year-old bachelor who has never grown up. The two meet after Will concocts a scheme to date unattached mothers he hooks up with at meetings for single parents (he pretends to have a child of his own) as a way to boost his ego and get lots of easy sex. One of the single women Will happens to be dating is friends with Will's mother, Fiona, and Fiona, unable to make it to a picnic for single parents and their children, sends her son, Marcus, along with Will and his date. Neither Will or the boy are too happy about being stuck together, but it isn't long before circumstances cause Marcus to decide that it's essential to find someone to date his mother. Will happens to be in the right place at the right time, so it's him that Marcus goes after.
The boy ends up stalking Will for an undetermined length of time, and catches on to Will's scheme, realizing the man never actually had a kid. It is then that he confronts a reluctant Will, and the two sit around and watch game shows. It isn't long before Will ends up taking to Marcus, and the two become fast friends. The whole time this is happening Marcus's mother is unaware that the boy is hanging around with this older man. When she finds out, she ends up confronting Will in a fancy restaurant, and the group becomes sort of an odd family related, not through blood, but rather through eccentricities.
The family becomes one member odder when Will meets up with the sexy Rachel (Rachel Weisz) and realizes he doesn't have more than five minutes worth of stuff to say about himself. Suddenly, his precious life as a ladies' man seems more like a wasted life as a sexist pig, and he ends up feeling humiliated when he is asked the dreaded question, "so, what do you do?" He answers with his typical, "nothing" and then is asked what he did before that. His answer, again, is "nothing." In an act of desperation Will "hints" that he has a stepson, and actually ends up scoring a date with Rachel. Of course Will is forced to ask Marcus to pretend to be his son, and comic misunderstandings worthy of Three's Company ensue.
Things end up working out exactly as you'd expect them to, and the film culminates in the most predictable finale since Mr. Holland got to conduct his Opus. Nevertheless, About a Boy is a fun motion picture worthy of a matinee viewing after you've memorized all of the lines from Attack of the Clones and are still busy waiting for Men in Black II. It's summer in Hollywood; did you expect anything more?
On a scale of 1-10?
Be back Wednesday night for my review of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones!
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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].
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