The Good: Funny, Witty, Insightful, Well-acted, Good script, Intelligent
The Bad: Main protagonist's affect, Cliche in points
The Basics: Excellent acting, interesting characters, and a reasonably good plot contribute to an all around wonderful film with Wonderboys!
Lately, I've found myself enjoying movies that involved people creating things. I have a real love, for example, of movies about writers, politicians and creative people. While some of the best of them are very new, like The Social Network (click here for that review!), others are a bit older, like Gods And Monsters (click here for my review!). One of the other ones I stumbled upon a few years ago was a movie less about creation and more the inability to. That movie was Wonderboys and it was surprisingly good.
Grady Tripp is a man with a problem. Fortunately, it's not a terribly difficult problem for the viewer to diagnose; Grady is a writer whose first and last novel was a critical success seven years before and no one has seen his second novel. We see Grady typing or considering the novel and each time, he feints.
Grady is surrounded by eccentrics in his midlife crisis, which is the weekend of the local bookfest. Grady has been left by his wife that very morning, this time for good. Apparently, this is a regular habit, or so his mistress, the chancellor of the college where Grady works, says. Sara, despite her love for Grady, is still in love with her pompous husband and spends the weekend debating which man is better for her. Fortunately, at no time does she threaten either of the men in her life's job.
Unfortunately, the same may not be said for Grady. While at a party at Chancellor/mistress Sara's house, Grady encourages his deeply introverted student, James Leer, to express himself. Unfortunately, the pep talk results in Grady getting bitten by Sara's husband's dog and James killing it. This is pretty much of the extent of the plot, though there is also intermingled Hannah, Grady's student border who has obvious designs on him, and Terry Crabtree, Grady's editor who is determined to see Grady's second novel. Terry often comes along with Grady and James on their misadventures into the weekend of self-discovery.
Wonderboys succeeds for most of the film, that is, so long as it's exploring the connections between the various characters, it's a winner. It's truly significant and wonderful. As Grady grills James Leer about his past and tries to figure the dour kid out, we, the viewer, are intrigued. It's fun, it's interesting and it's relevant. The people are realistic and intriguing.
Only when the film tries to make conclusions, to resolve itself, does it fail to satisfy. None of the characters rise above their origins in the conclusion.
However, up until that, there is a lot to enjoy. The cast is excellent. The writing is particularly strong, the dialogue is highly realistic. The voiceovers, as Grady narrates the film, are sharp and precise. I'm usually annoyed by voiceovers. I wasn't here.
Michael Douglas is fantastic as Grady, James Leer is expertly played by Toby Maguire. The true scene stealers are Robert Downey Jr. and Frances McDormand. Downey Jr. plays Crabtree with quirky grace and precision. McDormand plays Sara in one of the most interesting and well-acted roles in the film. She is obviously tormented and conflicted and McDormand plays those emotions up perfectly.
I have a beef with the cliche of the writers using drugs and alcohol. That and the ending are the only detractions I could find with the film. So, in short, it's worth seeing. It truly is.
For other films with Michael Douglas, please check out my reviews of:
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
For other film reviews, please visit my index page!
© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.