For better or worse, Hugh Grant has carved out a niche in Hollywood as the nervous, awkward, charming, British romantic leading man. He’s tried doing other things, paired with Gene Hackman as the protagonist in the thriller Extreme Measures. But attempts such as these are few and far between, and haven’t seemed to work. For better or worse, he’ll always be the stodgy British guy trying to bed an American chick over the objection of her parents, or some other convoluted romantic comedy plot. To his credit, he has been playing against that stereotype lately, to a lesser degree in Bridget Jones’s Diary, but to a larger scale in About a Boy, recently nominated for a Golden Globe in Comedy.
Will (Grant) is the son of a man who recorded a famous, but fictional, Christmas song in the late 1950’s, and literally does nothing all day, living off of the royalties of that song. He’s a bachelor who likes to avoid any responsibility or relationships, and has an epiphany: relationships with single mothers. He believes that they’ll jump on top of you, but they’ll always compare you to the guy who gave her the kid/kids that she’s trying to raise, and they’ll end the relationship first, so Will avoids any unpleasantness in breaking up now. He becomes such a firm believer in this theory, he creates an imaginary son, going as far as buying a childseat to put in his silver Audi sportscar, and uses this to attend support group meetings of other single parents, looking to hook up, and finds success.
On his first date, the son of a single mom not at the meeting is brought along for the trip, and he starts to take a liking to Will. The boy, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), is dropped off at his mother’s (played by Toni Collette), where they find her passed out from an apparent booze and pill overdose. She’s rushed to the hospital, and Marcus decides that Will is someone that can help him with his Mom. He starts showing up at Will’s apartment to hang out and watch TV, and Marcus’ leverage is that he can always tell his Mom and her friend about Will’s imaginary children. During the course of this relationship, Will starts to form a bond with Marcus. Marcus goes to school with his uniform, and with jackets, shoes and a haircut that would get his ass kicked at any school, and rightfully so. Will decides to buy him some Sketchers (because Nike pulled their footwear plug out of the movie at the last minute), and slowly integrates him into becoming a normal teenage in London, if one exists. For Christmas, Will buys Marcus a CD player, and a Mystikal CD to boot. For the repayment of this, Marcus agrees to help Will in pursuing a separate single mother named Rachel (Rachel Weisz).
In this movie, Grant plays a smoking, callous man not afraid to mince words about anything, and wanting to avoid getting too close to people. I wasn’t really much of a Grant fan to begin with, but after watching this, and seeing that the movie was adapted from the book written by Nick Hornby (the author of High Fidelity), maybe he isn’t such a bad guy after all. The movie had some smart, very funny lines, and was capably directed by, of all people, Paul and Chris Weitz, of American Pie lore. Sometimes, casting and directing choices can be a bit strange (Robert DeNiro has a production credit on this film), but the story was good, and made up for it.
Done in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, it brought out the crappy cold and wet weather memories I’ve grown to try to forget from my younger days in England. And kudos for the anamorphic, but there seems to be a quality to the movie where it was lit too brightly or something. Facial expressions don’t seem to stand out as much, because everything is so pale. But it is London, also, where all the weather from the North Seas comes in and makes the place cold and damp most days of the year. If you had to eat some of the stuff they’ve got in their supermarkets, you’d be a bit cranky also.
Done in 5.1 English and French, it’s primarily a dialogue-driven movie, and handles things capably when songs come onto the soundtrack. The shock for me was that this movie, which was released small and didn’t bring in much box office money, is in 5.1. It’s a bit of a surprise, albeit a pleasant one.
Universal has done well to load up on the Extras here, for a movie that not many people saw theatrically. There is your usual behind the scenes featurette here for starters. It runs for just under 11 minutes, and covers most of the same material that others have covered in the past. It did give a portion of time to Hornby, but it’s a different wrinkle in the same suit from previous featurettes on other movies. The group responsible for the soundtrack, Badly Drawn Boy, are the subject of a 21 minute featurette, which not only shows their videos, but also interviews as well. For those who really, REALLY like the music here, it’s worth checking out.
There are about 13 minutes of deleted scenes, and while it was explained that they were cut from time and pacing, quite frankly most of these scenes could, and probably should, have made the final cut. Most of the scenes are pretty funny, and as a group, were among the funnier group of deleted scenes I’ve seen which didn’t make the theatrical release. Bloopers and outtakes aside, those who have seen the movie should see them. There is also an English to English Dictionary, taking about 3 minutes, and is marginally useful to those who don’t know how to sod off and go back to their flat. It was cute to see, and worth a quick peek to those who are fans of English speak. The lyrics to the song that Grant’s character is living off of are here either, also a cute nod to the flick, and a very British song it is, talking about mince pies and a glass of sherry.
Aside from these extras, the brothers Weitz bring a commentary track to the table also. It is mostly a technical related track, but some gaps of dead air, and you would think that the guys from American Pie would be a bit more jovial, but the English weather and music must have gotten to them, because they sound pretty drab. To hear them talk about watching movies from French directors such as Godard and Truffault before watching this movie seemed to border a bit on the bizarre tip for me, but maybe it’s the ignorant bastard in me. I never would have thought that people directing a guy humping a pie were into French arthouse films. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing the movie or its sequel, I’ve got both “Pies” on disc also, I was just expecting a bit more pep from these guys.
The movie was very funny and good, although the very end was a little cheesy, but I had no objections to it. With a surprising amount of extras with it, it was worth the time, so much so that I picked it up after renting it initially. Definitely worth a rental, and perhaps a buy if you enjoyed it as much as I did. Fans of Hugh Grant, and another quality adaptation of another Nick Hornby book will want to pick this one up too.