About A Boy Review

After John Cusack and co 'Americanised' Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and made him a hot cinema property, the film deal for his next book was signed before Hornby had even completed it.


About A Boy tells of thirty-eight year old Will (Hugh Grant), a rich, purposefully shallow bachelor who has lived off the royalties of his father's one-hit-wonder songwriting for years; ensuring the lack of a need for him to ever find himself a career in anything. His best friends are worried about him, since he seems to be content to meander along in his life without desire of familial fulfilment. Will even turns down their request for him to be their daughter's godfather, claiming he lacks the responsible qualities. Realising that single-parent women seem to have no wish to find new husbands, Will invents himself a son in order to join a SPAT group (Single Parents Alone Together) - solely for the aid of meeting single-mums he hopes will only seek short-term relationships with him. Whilst trying to pursue attractive single mum Suzie (Victoria Smurfit) on a picnic, Will is forced to have young teenager Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) tag along, as his mother Fiona (Toni Collette) is a friend of Suzie's and is feeling depressed and unwell. After a few bizarre incidents, Will and Suzie return Marcus home only to find Fiona has attempted suicide. Whilst Fiona is on the mend, Will and Marcus strike up an unlikely friendship, and Will starts to learn that there are things in life he has always been missing.

Considering how effective High Fidelity was as a quirky comedy/drama, with its sterling Stephen Frears directing, fantastic acting from John Cusack and Jack Black and successful transplantation of Hornby's story, About A Boy could, on paper, have been a disaster. Firstly, Hugh Grant was chosen as the star, and Grant is only ever moderately successful in roles which allow him to work up fantastic chemistry with his female co-stars, whereas About A Boy would involve him working mainly with a teenage boy. The directing team Chris and Paul Weitz assuredly handled the American Pie films, but can they direct mature adult comedies? Also, eclectic weirdo Badly Drawn Boy was brought in to handle the soundtrack, even though he only has one album to his belt.


Fortunately, every element of About A Boy marries together in a fantastic comedy drama that contains by far and away Hugh Grant's finest performance. Grant is funny, charming and leaves behind all trace of his pompous upper-class drivel that he launched himself with in films such as Four Weddings And A Funeral. Equally as good however, is young Nicholas Hoult as Marcus. Hoult makes it easy to understand why even such a shallow isolationist such as Will can let him inside his life, and he does this without pandering to Haley Joel Osment-esque cuddliness. The cast on the whole are very good, even Toni Collette's English accent doesn't falter, and Rachael Weisz certainly looks the part even if she is ultimately wasted. Badly Drawn Boy's soundtrack is a fantastic ensemble of jangly guitar work and wall-of-sound production values that gives the film its own sense of modern inventiveness, and this corroborates the directing by the Weitz brothers, who suggest that the sluggish Chris Rock vehicle Down To Earth was just a momentary dip in form for the pair.


The cinematography by Remi Adefarasin portrays the London setting of the film in a very vibrant, primary-colour fuelled setting without pandering to an overtly-saccharine décor, even if the weather seems to sunny for England's capital.

About A Boy is an even handed film that for once contains Hugh Grant and doesn't alienate the male share of the audience. It's not a one-sided women's film like Bridget Jones' Diary and it's more intelligent than most comedy offerings that adapt a popular mainstream best-seller. Had it been released later on in 2002, it might have had a chance at a few Oscar nominations, in particular Grant's acting and Badly Drawn Boy's songs, but unfortunately it failed to soak up the awards it deserved. Even so, About A Boy is a winning mix of comedy and drama that delivers the goods in each department.




Picture
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the picture quality for About A Boy is generally very impressive, with a fine palette of colours utilised and strong, clarity-filled imagery filling the screen. Screen defects or edge-enhancement is decidedly lacking, and the overall appearance is very good.



Sound
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound mix is generally confined to the left/right channels of the surround mix even if the general ambience of the film's audio is often all encompassing. The film is mostly dialogue-driven and so the relative lack of a heavy bass channel or full-circular surrounds is only a minor omission.




Menu
A flat, silent, non-animated menu that is deeply uninspiring for popular modern releases.




Extras

Audio Commentary With Paul & Chris Weitz
A commentary of average quality, the Weitz's spend the majority of their time complementing the cast and crew or pointing out very small errors unnoticeable in the film to anyone but themselves. They occasionally try to be funny in a somewhat lethargic fashion, and are generally acceptable in keeping the pauses in comments to a minimum.

Spotlight On Location: The Making Of About A Boy (11 Mins)
A concise and interesting skim-over-the-surface of the film's making of, with the obligatory interviews combined with film and on-the-set footage. All of the major cast and crew participate, and it's interesting to note how the majority of the major players including Hornby and Grant were initially reluctant to let the Weitz brothers direct the film, but quick to admit they were wrong.

Deleted Scenes With Optional Director's Commentary (14 Mins)
A quite-lengthy reel of deleted scenes is included, without the option of selecting individual sequences but with the option of having the Weitz's explain why the scenes were trimmed from the film, with reasons ranging from plot issue to shooting issues. Like the usual deleted scenes, they are nothing more than extended characterisation for the major figures in the plot. Presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen.

Music Videos (9 Mins)
The two Badly Drawn Boy singles taken from the soundtrack - Silent Sigh and Something To Talk About are presented here in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, and are a nice bonus for any fans of Badly Drawn Boy or the soundtrack, considering Mr. Gough's fondness for inventive music videos.

Born In The UK - Interview With Badly Drawn Boy (21 Mins)
A very interesting interview with Badly Drawn Boy that explores many of the singer/songwriter's passions and feelings on life and music, along with the pressures of being famous. Usually extra material on such a mainstream film rarely strays from promotional filler, but this is a strong extra that fans of Badly Drawn Boy will be very happy about.

Trailers
The International teaser trailer for About A Boy is included, along with teaser trailers for The Guru and Johnny English.




Conclusion

About A Boy is a tremendous comedy/drama that superbly adapts Hornby's best-selling novel for the screen, ensuring the film will carve out a large fanbase for itself. The DVD package is generally very good, with some decent extras that occasionally stray further than promotional fare.

Film
9 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
7 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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