This film is closer to being a buddy movie than just about a boy, but the real story here is about growing up; you pick which one is the boy.
Will (Hugh Grant) is a shallow of a man that fills his days in ‘units’ of time: getting his hair tussled, eating dinner, watching television, whatever. Being that he has no job and still has money enough to live on, he’s discovered the perfect way to avert any responsibility and avoid any emotional distress by simply not being involved. Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a boy of twelve years, has no way to avoid his problems as much as he’d like to: his mother is depressed, there’s no father figure in his life, and all the kids at school think he’s weird and picks on him incessantly. When circumstances push these two people together, each of uses one another to find solace in what they think is missing from their lives, but in the end, what they really needed all along was just one another.
Hugh Grant did not start off as actor I gave much merit to. It wasn’t that I found him unfunny or unbelievable, but there seemed to be an underlying feeling of just being himself as opposed to being an actor, and his everyman routine seemed tired and predictable. In “About a Boy,” Grant plays a character that isn’t a reluctant everyman but is shallow by choice, having seen too many other people stressed and unhappy by fellow human beings close. Nicholas Hoult (as Marcus) holds his own as a boy that both wants to be involved and wants to be left alone all at the same time, and having Will as a role model doesn’t seem like all that good of an idea until Will sees he has the ability to do a little good even though he fully expects nothing in return.
Besides the clever story and players, the director employs a device I personally hate. I’ve gone on about poor narration propping up poor stories and dragging down good ones, but every once in a while a film comes along to put a new twist on it. In “About a Boy,” both Will and Marcus get their own, separate, internal monologues which, at the same time their characters meet, the individual narration ‘meets’ as well. This device gives us insight missing from the screen without making us feel as though we missed something; both Marcus and Will initially are playing each other, but are both too clever and THINKS their too clever to get caught.
Toni Collette turns in a dead-on (if unflattering) performance as Marcus’ mom, Fiona, while Rachel Weisz (as Rachel, go figure) plays the ‘right’ girl opposite Grant. Each lend their own degrees of credibility to the film, but the bulk is carried by Grant and almost equally by Hoult; nothing distracting from the story here, and the embarrassments of the characters is the viewer’s to suffer as well. All in all, “About a Boy” is a surprisingly good film for just about everyone who is growing up or is just now considering it.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)