The movie plays to the real passions of its very human characters.
If you're up for a good-natured stroll through the brightly exaggerated colors of director Curtis Hanson's academia, you may well love Wonder Boys. Be warned that the first half of this eccentric movie is by far its best, but by the time it loses momentum, we know the characters well and are happy enough just to see how things turn out for them.
Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire are a fine pair as professor and student. A word about Tobey Maguire: this boy knows when to keep his mouth shut. Heartbreakingly good in The Cider House Rules, he wears here the same impassive expression that we, for some reason, take for tenderness and brains. On someone else it might read quite differently. Whatever the case, Maguire gets away with it completely.
Michael Douglas is Grady Tripp, a good English teacher who produced one serious book seven years ago, is on page 1162 of novel number two, and doesn't know where it's going. Discouraged and rumpled, Grady knows that his student, James Weer, (Toby Maguire) is a better writer than he. Grady is in a bit of a mess: an affair with Sara (Frances McDormand), who is both chancellor of the university and wife of Grady's boss, the chairman of the English Department. In the first scene, Sara tells Grady she is pregnant, an announcement that is merely a mildly serious connecting thread running through the quirky shenanigans.
Grady and James spend most of the movie driving through an interminable mixture of Pittsburgh snow and rain in a car whose trunk holds a tuba, a large suitcase, and a dead dog that belongs to Grady's boss. That's another connecting thread that is not much more important, mind you, than the pregnancy. This is a lighthearted movie in which none of the participants takes anything seriously, no one is earnest, and the whole thing is washed in gentle irreverence.
We get a good fix on James when he is asked to recite a list of Hollywood suicides and rolls them off in alphabetical order; and again, when confronted with a jacket, which belonged to his beloved Marilyn Monroe, hanging in a closet, he comments, "It looks so lonely." James has great feeling and total focus for the things he loves. Brilliant writer that he is, he is given to finishing other people's sentences with beautiful phrasing.
Somewhere near the midpoint of the film, things dive further into slapstick when Grady's multi-sexual agent arrives from New York. Grady, the pothead who
writes in a pink bathrobe, limping and bleeding from a dog bite, altogether unkempt, is respected by James and loved by Sara, who doesn't give a whit what he looks like, just that he's Grady. The movie plays to the real passions of its very human characters. Of his attentions to James, Grady says, "Sometimes people just need to be rescued." I like that.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 495
Studio : Paramount
Rating : R
Running time : 1h52m
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