He disarms us. 

ABOUT A BOY

 An Illusion review by Joan Ellis      


Hugh Grant is Hugh Grant is Hugh Grant.  About a Boy is also Hugh Grant.  Like it or not, you can count on it:  he will be himself.  This time out though, Grant doesn’t play cute, he plays straight, and it works. 

Will Freeman  (Mr. Grant) is a dabbler.  He is also a congenital liar whose emotional interior is paper thin and untapped.  He has designed his bachelorhood to be a playground without responsibility.  As a world-class consumer, especially of CDs, he has furnished his apartment with the fruits of his forays into the design world.  His music system, the geometric angles of his living space, his surroundings – these are his life.  After a day at the hairdresser, he sits in luxurious pleasure on his designer couch wielding the remote that brings entertainment to his hearth.  Life is perfect.

When Will isn’t lounging, he shops, dates, and visits friends.  Of these he says, “Guests came and went but I was their regular.  He lives, by the way, on the royalties from a hit Christmas novelty song written by his father.  Looking for a new dating field, Will has decided to join a single mother’s support group to meet women who won’t say no to him.  But he needs an entry ticket.  He needs a child.   

And then he meets Marcus (Nicholas Hoult).  Marcus is the only child of a single mom, a bright nerdy kid who looks like a character from Dickens.  Marcus doesn’t fit at school and when he goes home, he really doesn’t fit there either.  His mother, Fiona (Toni Collette) is a suicidal depressive from the hippie generation who has a sweet heart and next to no ability to handle the responsibility of a son and a home.  Medicated by one thing or another, she weeps most of the time. 

Will talks Marcus into pretending to be his son in order to validate his own standing with the single mothers.  As the friendship between the two deepens, Will’s shallow protective layer begins to flake away.  The dilettante is responding to the lonely boy’s struggles with uncharacteristic compassion and imagination.  In return, the outspoken Marcus is giving as much as he gets.   

If the movie doesn’t soar, it rolls right along toward an ending that brings a healthy laugh of appreciation.  Because Hugh Grant manages somehow to reach for the saving grace of inner toughness, he avoids the twin traps of sentimentality and cuteness.  He disarms us. 

Nicholas Hoult, Rachel Weisz, and Toni Collette give Grant fine support, and together they manage to create enough laughter to keep the movie from becoming soggy.  This is a comedy with a poignant undertone.  What, after all, is more appealing than the process of a self-absorbed egotist losing his heart involuntarily and deeply to a little boy?  And if it seems frivolous to mention Mr. Grant’s new haircut, so be it.  He has finally found a good barber.

 


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