Posted: 05/21/2002


About a Boy


by Coco Delgado

Hugh Grant’s a very badly drawn boy…but he gets better.

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About a Boy, Hugh Grant’s latest attempt to spit in George Lucas’ face and win the love and dollars of the rest of the movie-going public, is actually about two boys, Grant’s Will Freeman and the actual boy, Marcus Brewer, an introverted, Vulcanized 12-year-old who is probably the most intelligent one in any group. Both of them have their combined and respective comings of age. It must be explained that I went to see the film while visiting my friend Kate in New Jersey.

We watched the movie in the second row of a suburban shoebox in Parsippany while the THX sounds of explosions and warp engines made the dialogue sound as though the Blitz was being reenacted outside our characters’ flats. Even so, what was on our screen was so interesting that eventually we stopped noticing. Will (a remarkably less floppy-haired Grant) is a 38-year-old island unto himself who’s never needed to work a day in his life as his father wrote a wildly popular Christmas song in the 50’s. Instead, he plays with his electronic toys, watches television, works on his coolness and wonders how people manage to cram in time for a job. He has no interest in settling down, having children and becoming a grown-up; he’s shallow and proud of it.

Marcus is everyone’s inner 12-year-old who never has and never will fit in. Even the computer geeks ask him not to hang out with them. His mother, more of a Muriel’s Wedding Toni Collette than a Sixth Sense one, is a vegetarian hippie who doesn’t help Marcus at all by dressing him in mainly Central American hand-woven clothing. Will, having run out of single women to date, has invented a two-year-old son so that he can go to ‘Single Parents Alone Together’ meetings and hit on single mothers. As a result, he meets Marcus at a picnic (and later his mother, who is found to have attempted suicide while Marcus was out)…and the two of them form an uneasy but increasingly co-dependent friendship. And it’s around here that my major problem with the film arises. I confess to being a Nick Hornby fan, and I’ve read the book upon which About a Boy is based. And I realize you can’t expect to see every single detail in a book when it’s translated onto celluloid, although Lord knows Peter Jackson tried. In High Fidelity, they cut a whole ex-girlfriend from the Top Five Breakups. But the film ignores what many readers of the book would consider a rather major plot point. For, in the book, one of the major factors that causes Marcus to come out of his shell is his discovery of the band Nirvana and his subsequent devastation at Kurt Cobain’s suicide. It relates to his mother’s suicide attempt, and the death of a hero…even the name, About a Boy, refers to Patti Smith’s song about Cobain. No mention of any of this. Not even a backhanded reference to Nirvana as a pun. That the movie is still a good one is a credit to the screen adaptors, but…it’s rather like making the film adaptation of Gone With the Wind and leaving out the bit about the War. Sure, there’s still the story of Scarlett O’Hara, but you lose some context.

That being said, About a Boy is still well done, with a proper balance of pathos and humor, and if you never read the book it’s likely you’ll not notice the plot-pointectomy. But if you have…if you have, then, let me warn you now that that part you remember isn’t going to come up, so relax and watch the film. Because it is a decent film. Really. There’s even romance, although I doubt it leads to the Empire being overthrown or anything like that. Lastly, the soundtrack.

The music was done by Badly Drawn Boy, and the CD is entirely music by him. I’ve got it and have been listening while writing this review. It’s brilliant. If you see it in a CD shop, you’ll not be able to read the track listing, because of the way they’ve packaged it, but there is no rendition of Santa’s Super Sleigh on it, nor is there the Hugh Grant/Kid-Who-Plays-Marcus version of Killing Me Softly. It has got some instrumental, background stuff on it, however…but it’s a nice poppy CD that evokes the film without making you listen to every song you heard while watching it.

Coco Delgado is a writer who always sits in the front row. For fun she moves to different cities, which have included Montreal, San Francisco and Atlanta. This year it’s Boston..

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