Monday, 5 September 2016

Movie Review: About A Boy (2002)


A London-based drama comedy about the value of social connectedness, About A Boy benefits from a textured Hugh Grant performance but is otherwise more docile than engrossing.

In London, Will Freeman (Grant) is an independently wealthy confirmed bachelor. With no need to work and an unwillingness to commit to any relationship, Will chases a series of brief affairs. Meanwhile Marcus Brewer (Nicholas Hoult) is a young and lonely boy, the son of depressed single mom Fiona (Toni Collette). Marcus is mercilessly bullied at school while Fiona is one bad cry away from contemplating suicide.

Will invents a fake son to invite relationships with single mothers. His ruse helps him go on a date with Fiona's friend Suzie (Victoria Smurfit), and through her he meets Marcus. The young boy latches onto Will as a surrogate father figure, and Marcus has visions of Will emotionally rescuing Fiona. But the attractive Rachel (Rachel Weisz) enters Will's life, and suddenly he has reasons to modify his behaviour, but stopping all the lies will not be easy.

Directed by the sibling duo of Chris and Paul Weitz, About A Boy is likable but falls short of finding a compelling hook. Over-narrated by both Will and Marcus, the film has interesting but also predictable things to say about the overrated benefits of being alone and the ultimately deeply satisfying value of forging meaningful relationships.

The film's fundamental problem is in Will's obvious journey, which can easily be forecast from the opening scenes: this is a self-centred man who will learn to welcome people into his life. And indeed 101 minutes later Will has transformed into a man who understands the value of investing in time with children and providing meaningful support for women. His journey will have a few wrinkles created by Will's intrinsic aversion to the truth, but there is little in About A Boy that surprises.

Also lacking is a strong counterpart for Will to lead him into his conversion. The film splits time among Fiona, Suzie and Rachel, and they are all shortchanged. Toni Collette as Fiona does get the most definition among the women, but even she is reduced to a sketch of an adult hippie struggling with a life far from the ideals imagined in youth. Rachel Weisz suffers the most: Rachel, who is supposed to be the fascinating woman who finally snaps Will out of his lifelong pursuit of shallow affairs, is introduced late and contributes relatively little.

Instead Will's main companion is Marcus, a boy struggling to survive trauma at home and anguish at school. Marcus is nothing if not persistent, and he perceives the one thing in Will that matters: his availability. Will can lie to any adult but he finds it increasingly difficult to hide his vacuous life from Marcus' searching eyes, and eventually Will yields to Marcus dragging him into a life where other people matter. Nicholas Hoult gives Marcus an innocent intensity forged by the survival instinct, and despite bordering on irritating, the mutual dependency between the boy-man and man-boy creates a warm core for the film.

Hugh Grant plays up his natural impish boyishness, and his performance contains welcome hints of the loneliness that comes from a grown man's perpetual search for selfish pleasure. He orchestrates the film's better moments as Will awakens to the comforts that come with empathy.

The man acting like a boy is called upon to be a man by the boy with a man's maturity. About A Boy finds a cause in why growing up matters.






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