Synopsis: Hugh Grant (Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary) is simply brilliant in this comedy hit the critics are hailing as “Hilarious!” (Premiere). Will Lightman (Grant) is a good-looking, smooth-talking bachelor whose primary goal in life is avoiding any kind of responsibility. But when he invents an imaginary son in order to meet attractive single moms, Will gets a hilarious lesson about life from a bright but hopelessly geeky 12-year-old named Marcus. Now, as Will struggles to teach Marcus the art of being cool, Marcus teaches Will that you’re never too old to grow up.
About a Boy 8.0
eyelights: the message.
eyesores: the finale.
“All men are islands. And what’s more, this is the time to be one. This is an island age. A hundred years ago, for example, you had to depend on other people. No one had TV or CDs or DVDs or home espresso makers.”
‘About a Boy’ was made for people like myself. By this I mean people who, like Hugh Grant’s character, Will, tend to think that a person can be an island.
Unlike Will, I am not a serial dater, nor do I benefit from a large bank account so that I may never have to work. This last part would be nice, but my dad can’t carry a tune worth his life. Thus, he will never record a Christmas jingle that that will earn him massive royalties, thereby ensuring that his progeny will be rich for all time. Bastard.
(just kidding, dad)
All jokes aside, the cold, pragmatic part of me really does think that it’s technically possible to survive mostly on your own. A part of me sometimes believes that people can railroad one’s plans and/or be inconvenient, thereby limiting one’s ambitions and/or productivity. You have a plan, a design for life, and then someone comes in and puts their messy fingerprints all over your blueprint. Urgh.
Except that another part of me also believes that we need people. I know that I do: I couldn’t do half the things that I do or be the person that I am if I wasn’t surrounded by the bestest lot (as I am, thankfully). Without them, I would likely wither away, stuck in a void, all expressions of myself muted. People make our daily lives so much richer that, even if we have to deal with each other’s foibles along the way, the give and take is well worth it.
Furthermore, from a purely pragmatic standpoint (just in case you think I’m being too sentimental), I don’t think it’s emotionally or intellectually healthy to be by yourself all the time. Human beings are social creatures by nature (heck, even the most introverted or antisocial ones are, whether they like it or not). The fact that babies become developmentally-challenged if they are deprived of regular contact speaks for itself.
But Will doesn’t seem to know and/or understand this. He is completely detached from the rest of the world with the exception of a couple of casual friends and a steady supply of short-term girlfriends – women whom he tosses the moment that they start to cramp his style. To him, it’s a simple matter of feeling crowded on his little island, of having only so many “units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes”, to share.
So when his life begins to get infringed upon by the teenaged son of the friend of a woman he attempted to woo (you still following me?), he obviously doesn’t react too well: he feels trapped, cornered, and he struggles to get away.
However, it’s through this relationship that he will begin to understand the important role that he can play in people’s lives – and they in his. While he initially boasts of having no attachments, thereby being able to maintain “a long, depression-free life”, he later comes to realize that although he “had a very full life. It’s just that it didn’t mean anything”.
And that’s when he begins to actually change, that’s when he opens the door to others a bit more and allows them entry into his world – and, in so doing, connects people that need one another as much as he needs them. And, while it might seem like a precious sentiment to some people, it rings positively true to me. Especially at this particular point in my own life.
‘About a Boy’ wouldn’t have had any effect if not for its primary cast, of course:
-Hugh Grant plays Will perfectly cool and confident (unlike his usually shtick of nervous, stammering charmers). I totally bought into the character, even if I didn’t relate with his lifestyle nor his penchant for untruths.
-Nicholas Hoult, while not entirely convincing in his delivery, plays Marcus as a dork well enough. Maybe he makes me uncomfortable because I’ve known kids like that before. Hmmm… perhaps his delivery is totally fine, after all.
-Toni Colette, who almost always makes me cringe with her awkwardness, is completely believable as the granola mom so desperately unhappy that she is drowning in her tears – and sinking her son along with her. She is amazing in this. Still cringe-worthy, but amazing.
The film uses a device that works admirably well: the voice-over narration. I know that it’s an oldie and it’s not always a goodie (case-in-point: ‘Blade Runner’), but what the filmmakers did in ‘About a Boy’ was to provide us with a dual-narration from both Will and Marcus, narrations that sometimes criss-cross as they explain their situations and feelings.
In so doing, not only do we get inside Will and Marcus’ respective thoughts about their lives, but we also get to see what they think of each other. This provides not only context but much humour as well, as we begin to grasp just how far they’ve strayed from the middle, each in their own way. Also, by providing us with two protagonists, the film makes its case from different perspectives: from the independent man and the dependent young man.
If there is one problem with the film for me, it is the shmaltzy ending that has Will join Marcus onstage to sing a song for Marcus’ mom in front of a whole school. Not only do I dislike the thought of a sing-a-long, but they had Will lose all of his dignity by overplaying the part at the very end; it became quite embarrassing and utterly horrid. That totally killed the moment for me – a moment that was already dead in the water, I might add.
Still, despite this ineffectual closing bit, even though it falters in its final moments, I think that ‘About a Boy’ remains a strong picture, overall: it broaches its subject with wit and charm, makes its case intelligently, without undue judgement, and provides a conclusion that one can easily understand and identify with.
In a day and age where all too people find themselves an island, whether intentionally or not, figuratively or not, we could do worse than to take the message of ‘About a Boy’ to heart.
“Every man is an island. I stand by that. But clearly some men are island CHAINS. Underneath, they are connected…”
Date of viewing: December 26, 2012