About a Boy is the second movie to be based on a successful Nick Hornby novel.
The first was the endearing High Fidelity, a film that more or less fulfilled the task of visually capturing the troubled (yet supremely hip-sounding) world of a middle-aged record store owner.
This feel-good comedy, directed and produced by Chris and Paul Weitz (American Pie, Down to Earth), features a similar XY sensitivity as High Fidelity, only with a lot more glitz and a lot less charm. Will Freeman (the hunky-and-that’s-about-it Hugh Grant) is a 36-year-old London yuppie living his life as a group of short, effortless allotments of time for everything from designer haircuts and game show viewing to hopscotch relationships.
Will does anything to avoid growing up. His only connection to his father is a guitar meant more for looking cool than playing songs, and he similarly lacks his own identity. His career of nothing and loner philosophies are facilitated by his father’s one-hit wonder Christmas carol royalties.
Will’s comfortable apathy unravels after a key revelation: single mothers are the future of convenient, easy break-up dating. His second brilliant musing? The easiest way to meet single moms is to pretend to be a single parent himself. Naturally, lies and half-hearted laughs ensue.
Through a plot development too boring to rehash, Will encounters and later befriends Marcus, a 12-year-old boy whose own single mom (the talented Toni Collete) is carrying a great deal of emotional baggage unexplored in the script.
Will’s initial lessons of expensive-objects-make-life-easier are well intentioned but ultimately unrealistic; they don’t stop the kids at school from picking on him and they certainly don’t bring an end to the mother’s depression.
The movie’s remainder features more lessons, not from Will, but from Marcus (child actor Nicholas Hoult — a cool Haley Joel Osment, if you will).
While entertaining enough to keep viewers from falling fast asleep or leaving the theater altogether, About a Boy is not a spectacular movie. Too frequently the characters go through the typical tough-lives-with-wacky-predicaments-blah-blah motions.
Not even a cute Brit kid singing Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass” in the school hallway can make up for such predictability.
Neal Ramirez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org