About A Boy
It seems that my impression that About A Boy was another Hugh Grant Chick Flick were ill founded – thankfully. Instead what we get is an interesting tale of self realisation and awareness.
Hugh Grant is Will Freeman, a 30-something London bachelor who has managed to avoid any sort of responsibility in life thanks mainly to the regular royalties of a Christmas themed hit song penned by his father. He spends his day watching TV and just pampering himself, living the lifestyle that every lad’s magazine reader dreams of. His love-life is also a cads dream – love them and leave them.
In his on-going quest to achieve the ultimate bachelor lifestyle Will stumbles across a plan to meet desperate women. He pretends to be a single parent and joins SPAT (Single Parents Alone Together) with the idea that single mothers are a) more desperate and b) break up easier as they are looking for more stability than he can provide. So with his imaginary son, Will begins to woo single mothers.
Unfortunately as an indirect result of his subterfuge, Will manages to blow his cover to a real 12-year old boy, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), whose mother Fiona (Toni Collette) is a suicidal troubled hippy. Marcus decides to blackmail Will but not for any material gain, but just to be allowed to hang out with him instead.
So every day after school, Marcus turns up uninvited at Will’s bachelor pad and just hangs out watching Countdown and the like. At first Will hates the fact that his home is invaded by a badly dressed 12 year old son of a hippy, but eventually almost looks forward to just hanging out with another person – contrary to his ‘no man is an island, but me’ theory of life.
Things become more complicated as Will meets Rachael (Rachel Weisz), a woman who he falls for and who is too good for him (which he knows) – shame she doesn’t feel the same way. However, more pressing matters are at hand as Marcus is about to commit social suicide by singing ‘Killing Me Softly’ in front of the whole school during a talent contest, to try and break his mother out of her depression.
About A Boy is interesting not just for the journey of discovery that Will travels, but the fact that most of the characters on screen have their own journeys to complete. The film could have been a giant cliché that an American production might have made, complete with a cute, adorable kid, but here Marcus’s character isn’t one that is particularly likeable at first, he’s rude, odd and one more than one occasion annoyingly frustrating. However seeing that this is a film about growing eventually, we as the audience, come to accept and grow fond of him much the same way as Will does.
Performances are good too, with Hugh Grant being the least offensive in a long time. This is no stuttering foppish performance that he is renowned for, but one that is surprisingly despicable at times, which makes a welcome change – and one that male audiences can relate to more than towards his other characters (well, I could at least). Toni Collette as hippy mum Fiona generates some real sympathy as does Nicholas Hoult as her estranged son.
Surprisingly the film is directed by masters of gross out comedy, Chris and Paul Weitz. The director brothers, who were the force behind the American Pie films, here show great restraint and maturity as film makers more renowned for putting the antics of American teens on the big screen. It’s nice to see an un-formulaic, fresh film that has compelling characters and not a special effect in sight.
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