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Book review: 'Boys' is true to the book

Friday, February 25, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

For those who have read Michael Chabon's novel, one of the pleasures of the film adaptation of "The Wonder Boys" is its overall faithfulness to the book, something Hollywood honors more in the breach than in the observance when adapting novels for the screen. Screenwriter Steve Kloves and director Curtis Hanson largely maintain the book's sequence of events. The one significant omission is a Passover seder that protagonist Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) attends at the rural home of his in-laws, where he has gone in search of his wife, who has just left him.

In the movie, Grady takes the long car ride to the house, which appears to be located in a small town rather than out in the country, as the book implies. He has a brief talk with his father-in-law (Philip Bosco), who tells Grady his wife went away to stay with a friend.

Many individual scenes in the film play out generally as Chabon wrote them. Much of the important character development and a key plot element occur at the party hosted by Chancellor Sara Gaskell (Frances McDormand). Kloves and Hanson perfectly visualize Grady's discovery of his morose but talented writing student, James Leer (Tobey Maguire) in the dark back yard and also the business with the Gaskell dog and a valuable celebrity collectible.

Later in the film, when Grady and his editor Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.) go to "rescue" James from the estate at which he lives, the depiction of his room in the basement of a house that looks rather like a castle is much as I imagined it while reading the book.

Among the other key changes from book to film can be found in the ending -- not so much what happens to Grady as where.

The movie also creates a character not in the book -- the girlfriend of Vernon Hardapple, a man who frequents the Hi-Hat Bar in the Hill District. His name really isn't Vernon -- Grady and Terry make it up while imagining a fictional life for him. Vernon claims that he is the real owner of Grady's car.

All that happens in the book, too. The girlfriend is invented to facilitate a graceful exit of sorts. I do wish the movie showed us more of the Hi-Hat, which has a larger presence in the book.

Grady's car, by the way, is green in the book and maroon in the movie, which also changes the identity of the person Grady got it from. I much prefer Chabon's choice -- an old Post-Gazette sportswriter named Happy Blackmore.

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