Saturday, January 28, 2012

Surprisingly Decent Hugh Grant (Who Would Have Guessed?). It’s About A Boy!

The Good: Funny, Good acting, Interesting characters
The Bad: Predictable plot and message
The Basics: In a clever film that puts Hugh Grant in a rather unlikable role, Will must help Marcus deal with his crazy mother.

I am not, traditionally, a fan of Hugh Grant. In fact, in the past, I have found his supposed boyish good looks to be a cheap excuse for his lack of genuine acting talent. He seems to be cast in a great number of things based on his sparkling blue eyes and casual demeanor. About A Boy changes that. Finally, Hugh Grant has been cast in a way that denies all of the preconceptions of who the actor is.

Will is a bachelor and a pretty self-centered one at that. He has little to worry about, living off the royalties from a song his father wrote. When Will stumbles on a plan to get easy, low-maintenance dates, he discovers single moms. Convinced he will seem like less of a jerk than men who leave them with their kids, Will joins a single parent's group. It is through that group that he meets Marcus, the twelve year old son of a crazy hippy. Will realizes early that Marcus needs help and can use a decent, reliable human being in his life. He decides to be that person.

What works terribly well is Hugh Grant's acting. From a distinctly different posture to the utter lack of a sparkle in the eye, Hugh Grant proves that he can act in About A Boy. Grant plays Will as utterly charmless and he does it surprisingly well. While most actors or actresses who hinge on natural charm will at some point allow their persona to slip and they reveal themselves, Grant does not do that at any point in this film. Indeed, one of the very last scenes where Will joins Marcus on stage, it seems like there would be an opportunity for him to be more Hugh Grant, but instead, the actor manages to disguise himself. He works out perfectly in this role.

And Will is an unlikable character. He is self-centered, crabby, and honest in all of the wrong ways about all of the worst things. He grows throughout the film, but not at a pace that makes us fail to believe that he has been in an egotistical rut the past thirty years of his life. Indeed, if there is any real fault in About A Boy, it is that it betrays its origins of a miserable character for a fairly easy answer with Will's progression into normal human being.

On the other end of the spectrum is Marcus. Marcus is almost equally self-absorbed. Still, he is able to recognize in Will all of the faults of the older man and he's not afraid to call him on his b.s. Marcus is a kid with an agenda and he sees the ability in Will to have a back-up plan should his wacky mother Fiona actually go off the deep end. And there is evidence that Fiona is headed in that direction; the first day Marcus and Will meet, Fiona has an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

I'm not so big on child actors. Frankly, most of them could not act their way out of a paper bag. This is simply the nature of the beast; children have not experienced a huge array of emotions yet, so they cannot be expected to portray them on camera. But Nicholas Hoult, who plays Marcus, is genuinely good. Hoult is in command of his body language and tone. He does an excellent job of portraying a child who is both cunning and naive. Hoult makes us believe in a character who can be both clever and hurt, wanting desperately to be healed and having only the most basic ideas of how to get it.

The cast is rounded out by Toni Collette, who plays the hippy Fiona. Collette manages the difficult job of playing someone who we may believe is a parent and yet is a complete flake. She sells us quite convincingly on the idea of being both self-absorbed and oblivious to Marcus' needs while still managing to get out several difficult and long sets of lines where she has to emote in character. She does it amazingly with a strong balance of miserable facial expressions and a huge array of emotive tones.

About A Boy, was a film I had heard decent things about, but nothing prepared me for how good it was. It was actually funny. In the end, I laughed at this film more than any piece in recent memory. It was well-acted and had good characters and in the end, it was funny.

Sometimes, that's the best we can ask for, even if it does have a somewhat predictable plot arc.

For other works with Nicholas Hoult, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
X-Men: First Class
Clash Of The Titans


For other film reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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