About a Boy

About a Boy is really about two boys: Will (Hugh Grant) a 39-year-old man who doesn’t want to grow up and Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) a 12-year-old boy who has had to grow up too fast. Both characters come with voice over narratives which enable us to hear what they’re thinking even during scenes with dialog. The fact that both characters, in their polite, British way, rarely say what they’re thinking provides most of the film’s humor. The effect is sweet, without being saccharine.

The character of Will is an continuation and extension of Hugh Grant’s characher, Daniel Cleaver, in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Will is nicer (he hasn’t started sleeping with other men’s wives), but blanker. The two movies make interesting companion pieces–the state of the modern British couple told in “he said, she said” format. I like About a Boy better, perhaps, because I identify more with Will than Bridget (having produced offspring at an early age, I’ve just never suffered Bridget’s desperate urges brought about by the winding down of her biological clock). Besides, Will is confident to the point of arrogance; he lives an organized and well-planned life. And Hugh Grant skillfully manages to our invoke our sympathy for a man characterized by shallowness. We know that Will is a manipulative cheat, but we see that the only person he has really fooled, really hurt, is himself.

Spoiler Alert Ahead

I disagree completely with David Denby in The New Yorker who was disappointed that the movie didn’t include a dramatic blowup with Will’s object of desire, Rachel (Rachel Weisz).

“He meets a single mother played by Rachel Weisz, a dark beauty with a frank stare, and begins the imposture all over again. At that point, “About a Boy” should have turned into a battle between these two. Certainly, a real fight would have made commercial as well as dramatic sense.”

Such a fight would not have made dramatic sense because the story is not about Will’s relationship with Rachel. (There’s a reason it’s called About a Boy and not Boy Meets Girl). In fact, Will is soundly upbraided by Marcus who tells him that he is a useless human being who doesn’t care about anyone and who has no one who cares for him. And when Will realizes he does care about someone, it’s Marcus. By demonstrating his love for Marcus, Will becomes worthy of love. He becomes lovable and love comes to him, not when he is seeking it, but when he is giving it, in the first unselfish act of his life.

Bottom Line: Recommended for everyone except those people dating commitment-phobes.

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