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The Statesman

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    Not Your Traditional Romantic Comedy

    ‘About a Boy’ is likely to be characterized as a romantic comedyby film purists, as people are generally fond of labels. However, the key relationshiphere is not the prototypical one between man and woman that people have cometo expect in such films.

    The primary relationship here is between a man and a 12-year-old boy (no, it’snot that kind of movie), but rather the story of a loner adult who learns tolet someone else into his heart and life.

    The movie is told from the dual points of view of Will (Hugh Grant) and 12-year-oldMarcus (Nicholas Hoult), whose unreformed mother, Fiona (Toni Collette), hastaught him several habits that get him ridiculed at school.

    Adapted from Nick Hornby’s 1998 novel, ‘About a Boy’ is such a seamlesspiece of entertainment, carefully balancing its serious and comic elements thatyou don’t pause to consider what truly tricky material this is.

    Hugh Grant plays Will, an aging London bachelor who does ‘nothing’for a living, and who despite being childless, joins a single parents’ groupto pick up women. The reasons he cites for this plan of attack is that he findsthat single mothers ultimately are not ready for commitment and break up withhim, thus sparing him guilt. He’s not particularly proud of this fact; ‘itjust is what it is.’

    His father wrote a classic holiday song, ‘Santa’s Super Sleigh,’so Will can live off the royalties and spend his time watching TV and keepingup on cutting edge CDs and high end slacker fashions. He pays a hairdresserto maintain his ‘carefully disheveled’ look and wishes he were ambitiousonly when he considers that doing something, anything, would make him more interestingto women.

    The plot thickens when Grant’#146;s character is introduced to the son of asingle mentally ill woman, who latches onto him like the little brother youjust can’#146;t seem to get rid of. Rarely is a kid and his relationship withan adult so specifically written and acted.

    Even with such a setup, you figure the movie eventually will lead to the kidconvincing the man and his mom that they’re meant to be together, thus forminga happy family for everyone. Interestingly though, directors Paul and ChrisWeitz, who share a screenwriting credit with Peter Hedges, are sympathetic toHornby’s vision that life is more complicated and interesting than that.

    The child, Marcus gets picked on, but he is a realist who doesn’t allow himselfself-pity, mostly because he feels responsible for his mother, who’s prone tomiddle-of-the-day crying fits and suicide attempts. When Will reflexively defendsMarcus from a park cop, (the boy has accidentally killed a duck with a rock-hardloaf of bread) and Will comes up with an inventive lie to cover up the mishap,Marcus realizes he has found a rare ally.

    ‘About a Boy’ marks a leap in subtlety and substance for the Weitzbrothers, who previously made comedies such as ‘American Pie’ and’Down to Earth.’

    The movie occasionally strains for crowd-pleasing moments as it pumps up thedrama toward the end, but it more than earns our respect and appreciation. It’sfunny, moving, and true, and it respects the audience’s intelligence as muchas the characters’. That combination, no matter the movie’s label, deservesto be treasured. I give it 3.5 stars out of 4.

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