Based on a popular British novel by Nick Hornby, About a Boy tells the tale of what happens when ultra-shallow 38-year-old (polite snicker at shaving a bit off Grant’s age — even in 2002 — is permissible here) playboy Will Freeman runs afoul of 12-year-old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). Will is — or thinks he is — the last word in shallowness. He’s content to do nothing but live off the royalties of his one-hit-wonder father’s novelty song (“Santa’s Super Sleigh”), map out his life in 30-minute increments, drift from one insubstantial relationship to another, and worry about keeping his hair “stylishly disheveled.”
His “perfect” world starts unraveling when he hits on the idea that single parent groups are a good place to pick up women (never mind that he isn’t a parent) and through circumstances he finds himself playing father figure to Marcus. The concept is far from new, but the details and the freshness of the presentation make the difference. It also affords Grant one of the best roles of his career, since it deftly combines his standard screen character with the more complex, darker aspects found in his characters in An Awfully Big Adventure and Bridget Jones. The film definitely trades on more than a few cliches, but not in any seriously detrimental way because they are well-used and inventively presented (Will starts to realize how lonely his life is by watching the “Alone bad, friend good” scene in Bride of Frankenstein on Christmas day).
It’s also refreshing that the movie refuses to ever turn into a traditional romantic comedy (the film is at the two-third mark before Grant love interest Rachel Weisz even enters the proceedings). It doesn’t even allow itself the standard romantic happy ending, but a very different happy ending involving what has become Will’s extended family, and it never makes any single person entirely “wrong.” In About a Boy, everyone offers each other something they need in a very astute manner. It’s not perfect (a single brief scene where Will fantasizes he sees his father in a supermarket and then the idea disappears from further references suggests that something more elaborate got lost in post-production), but it’s definitely a fine film — and a worthy addition to the Christmas movie set of titles.
The Asheville Film Society will screen About a Boy Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville, hosted by Xpress movie critic Ken Hanke.