I first saw this movie a couple of weeks ago, and like most good movies it stuck with me, so I saw it again.The first time I saw it, I thought that the title was a little misleading.The movie is not about one boy, but two.The first is Will (Hugh Grant) a 38 year old bachelor, living the single life and loving it.He lives off the royalties of a song his father wrote, which is good, because otherwise he has no idea how he would fit in a job between his DVDs, baths, hair appointments and exercise (billiards).The other boy is Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a young boy who doesn’t fit in at school. Going home isn’t much fun either, since his Mom (Toni Collette) is depressed and spends most of the day crying.
The second time I saw the movie, I realized that the title was just right. As different as these two characters seem, they really have many of the same problems. In fact, the movie might as well be called “About Boys,” since men would be hard pressed not to identify at least a little bit to one–or both–of the main characters. Personally I found myself identifying with both Will (which I’m a little ashamed to admit) and Marcus (which I’m a little embarrassed to admit). It’s a shame that this film is going to be dubbed a “chick flick” (I was the only male in the theater the first time I saw it) because I think men are going to identify with it more than women do.
When the film first introduces us to Will, he is arguing that Jon Bon Jovi was wrong when he said, “no man is an island.” Will believes that in this age of DVD, satellite television and espresso makers, a man can live on his own little island. Will is so in love with his “island living” that he is proud of the fact that he has never dated any woman for more than three months. At one point, a friend tells him that if he doesn’t shape up, he will die childless and alone. “Well, fingers crossed, yeah” is Will’s response. This same friend had earlier set up Will with a woman, without telling him she had a kid. When the woman tells him, he pretends that he his happy, while his narration tells us the opposite. Much to his surprise, Will is loving the situation. Since the woman had a bad relationship with the child’s father, she sees Will as the good guy, and Will is perfectly happy to keep pretending. However, he soon realizes that he needs to get out of the situation (“she doesn’t have a DVD player or Satellite”), but before he can break up with her, she breaks up with him claiming that she is not good enough for him (watch Grant trying to look disappointed while holding back a smile).
Will decides that this “single mum thing” could really work, so he begins going to single parent meetings to meet women. He meets one, and they arrange to bring their kids for a picnic in the park. Sadly, Will’s son’s mother came and picked him up at the last minute (darn). The woman he goes with has also agreed to bring Marcus, her friend’s son. Marcus is made fun of at school and wishes he were like “that movie kid Haley Joel Osment” so he wouldn’t have to go to school anymore. It’s ironic that Toni Collette, who played Osment’s mom in The Sixth Sense, plays his mom here. Marcus latches on to Will, and since he doesn’t want to go home after school, he begins going over to Will’s apartment every day, uninvited. Will agrees to it when Marcus finds out he doesn’t really have a kid, and because Marcus won’t let off the doorbell until he gets in. After a while (and much to his dismay) Will finds himself wanting to help Marcus, and does so in the only way he knows how: picking out shoes and CDs. Eventually it will take a dose of courage from Marcus and a bit of embarrassment for Will, for both boys to realize how much better their lives can be.
Chris and Paul Weitz, proving they can do more than just gross out an audience (American Pie 1 & 2) direct this movie very well. Their best choice in this movie was to use a double narration. Both Will and Marcus reveal their thoughts to the audience, allowing us to identify with them better. There is a great moment in which a song is playing on the soundtrack and suddenly Marcus begins to sing the song out loud, and we realize that we were listening to what was going on in his head. The narration allows us to compare the characters real thoughts to what they are actually saying. It reminded me of Annie Hall, where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton chat away while subtitles tell us what they are really thinking (“I wonder what she looks like naked”). There is also some effective camera work, such as Will’s first date, while the camera slowly rocks back and forth between the two characters.
The climactic scene at the school concert is really well done. If the scene had been handled conventionally, Marcus would have magically received back up support from Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” on the soundtrack and the crowd would have burst into a big standing ovation. Instead, the scene makes the audience feel how uncomfortable Marcus is standing there, and it makes its point that Marcus is willing to endure even more ridicule, if it means making his mom happy.
The movie is not one of those in which the jerk is suddenly redeemed by his friendship with a child. Instead, the movie slowly follows Will’s transformation, showing the audience each step. This may cause for a few slower moments in the film, but they are necessary to the overall effectiveness of the scene. Take for instance a scene in which Marcus accidentally kills a duck and Will has no qualms about blaming him. The scene itself is funny, but the real effect comes later, when the event is referred back to. This new moment is touching in the way it reminds us how the memory of life’s little events can give us joy when we least expect it.
On the surface, this may look like a simple comedy, but underneath there is a lot more to see. And possibly, like me, you’ll need to see it twice to really appreciate it. It’s funny, touching, and very well made. It’s one of the best films of the year. I give it an A.