About a Boy (2002): Chris and Paul Weitz Comedy, Starring Hugh Grant in his Best Role and Toni Collette

An enjoyable comedy with heart, soul, and social message, “About a Boy” offers Hugh Grant his best role to date, one that cashes in on his good looks, surface charm, and dramatic skills.

“About a Boy” is produced by the same company that’s responsible for the 1994 Oscar-nominated comedy, “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” with Hugh Grant as member of the estimable ensemble, and the 2001 Oscar-nominated “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

The film is co-directed and co-written by the siblings Chris and Paul Weitz, best known until now for the raunchy teenage comedy, “American Pie,” a blockbuster that went on to become a franchise.

Sharply observed, “About a Boy” is co-penned by Peter Hedges, known for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” starring Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio in his breakthrough role.  Hedges would make his feature directorial debut the following year with “Pieces of April,” which was at the Sundance Film Festival in the Dramatic Competition the year was a member of the jury.

Grant is quite credibly cast as Will Freeman, London’s most eligible bachelor, who gets some lessons in growing up and becoming a mature man from a mal-adroit 12-year-old boy named Marcus (Nicholas Hoult).

Universal’s production is the third big-screen adaptation of a novel by Nick Hornby, author of the book “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” which was made into a popular movie starring Rene Zelewegger.

“About a Boy” concerns not one but two coming-of-age stories. First, there is the story of the thirtysomething Will, a layabout “nice guy” living a posh, carefree, and empty lifestyle off his deceased father’s fortune. Then there is the other tale, which centers on the preteen Marcus, a bright but awkward youth who’s tired of the depression of his mom Fiona (Toni Collette), who complains endlessly of missing having a boyfriend.

The paths of this duo, yet another variation of the Odd Couple routine, collide when Will, deciding that single mothers are easy romantic targets on the competitive dating scene due to their loneliness and vulnerability, fakes up a two-year-old son so that he can join a group called S.P.A.T. (Single Parents Alone Together).  Little does he know that there would be real consequences to his hoax.

Indeed, Marcus, smart enough to spot to Will’s scheme, begins pestering Will to the point of blackmail. The boy, who just imposes himself on Will when he is least expected, even arranges for Will to date his mom.

Though Will doesn’t bond immediately with either Marcus or his mother, he gradually begins to soften, warm up, and be in closer touch with his otherwise dormant feelings. He opens up to the people around him, for the first time really listenting to what they say and feel–he begins to be attentive to the needs of others.

In fact, Will plays his new role so well that he attracts the attention of another single mom (played by Rachel Weisz right after winning the Supporting Actress Oscar).

Good looking and appealing, Hugh Grant is nonetheless a limited actor with a narrow dramatic or comedic range, usually playing variations of the same role, but here the part of a selfish man who gains self-consciousness fits him like a silk glove.

Credits

Released by Universal
Tribeca Films and Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner’s Working Title.
MPAA: PG-13
Running time: 101 Minutes.
Directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz
Written by Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz

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