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'About a Boy'

Grant is nudged into a deeper life in Hornby's

Friday, May 17, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When a female friend suggests that a 38-year-old Londoner named Will (Hugh Grant) has hidden depths, he quickly disabuses her of that nasty notion. "No, you've always had that wrong. I really am that shallow." And proud of it.

'About A Boy'

RATING: PG-13 for strong language and some thematic elements

STARRING: Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz

DIRECTORS: Paul and Chris Weitz

WEB SITE: www.about-a-boy.com


About the directors
Brothers stay true to novel by updating it


In "About a Boy," Will has never had a job or relationship that lasted longer than two months. He lives off the royalties from a Christmas song that his late father wrote. Will divides his day into 30-minute units and fills them with watching TV quiz shows, shopping for CDs, eating, getting his hair professionally and properly tousled and romancing women. Although he dislikes children and treats them like alien visitors, he's found that single mothers are especially ripe for his attention.

Will's story alternates with that of an actual boy, 12-year-old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), whose life is anything but carefree. He lives with his depressed mother, Fiona (Toni Collette), an aging hippie who means well but is often clueless. Almost nothing about Marcus is cool; even the other outcasts don't want to hang out with him.

Will crosses paths with Marcus after attending a meeting of a support group for single parents. By pretending to be a father, Will meets an unattached mom named Suzie (Victoria Smurfit) who brings her friend Fiona's son along on a picnic. Through circumstances beyond Will's control -- and Marcus' persistent habit of showing up at Will's door each afternoon -- the pair become pals.

That halting friendship or faux father-son relationship colors Will's attempt to romance yet another single mother (Rachel Weisz) and re-evaluate his solipsistic existence along with Marcus' awkward wooing of a classmate -- and his efforts to cheer his mother.

This is the first thing you need to know about "About a Boy": It's based on a novel of the same name by Nick Hornby, who wrote "High Fidelity."

Although the movie is set in present-day England rather than 1993-94 and changes the ending, it is remarkably faithful to the book. And when you're dealing with such rich, funny and smart source material, that's how it should be. It also scores points for avoiding an easy coupling cliche that audiences have been conditioned to settle for.

Grant, who sports a boyish hairstyle and wardrobe that make him look different from the cad in "Bridget Jones's Diary" and bookstore owner in "Notting Hill," is perfect as Will. His off-screen life as a 41-year-old who acknowledges the dating game isn't as much fun as it used to be just adds a patina of plausibility to the whole proceedings.

But Will is more than a haircut and a handsome, self-absorbed shell. He undergoes a subtle transformation and faces some painful revelations and re-evaluations of his life. Grant makes it look easy, which it's not. But that's the true test of a pro.

Young Hoult has been acting since age 8 (he's now 12), but this is his first leading role in a movie and he makes a natural and sympathetic counterweight to Grant. He looks like a real kid who wants to blend in with the crowd, even when he keeps standing out for all the wrong reasons.

Grant says, in the press material, "I have a feeling that all the best comedy arises out of pain. And there's plenty of pain in this story -- particularly in terms of the boy. I personally think Marcus is the best thing Nick Hornby ever wrote."

"About a Boy" has its serious moments, but it's a warm comedy dotted with laugh-aloud moments and a rendition of a well-known song that is impossible to shake for all the right and wrong reasons. Not all of the most commanding boys are in "Spider-Man" or "Star Wars." There are a couple of compelling ones -- ages 12 and 38 -- right here.

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