Before you dismiss About A Boy as just another Hugh Grant rom-com, it might surprise you to know that Four Weddings aside, it’s easily his best movie. Although, considering that it’s adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby (who wrote the books behind High Fidelity and Fever Pitch), directed by the brothers Weitz (who did the better-than-all-its predecessors American Pie) and produced by the team behind Bridget Jones's Diary (you loved it really) maybe it shouldn't be so surprising...

Living off the royalties from his father's one-hit wonder, 38-year-old Will Freeman (Grant) has never had a job and has no interest in a serious relationship. However, while attempting to date single mothers, he meets 12-year old boy Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), who takes a liking to him, and the two form an unlikely friendship.

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Interestingly, it’s not so much a romantic comedy (although occasionally romantic and frequently comedic) as it is a well-observed story about life, love and the consequences of letting people into your life. Cynical yet good-hearted, easy to watch but with something to say, Chris and Paul Weitz have crafted a well-rounded picture that will appeal to both guys and girls. Hell, even the floaty song-based score by Badly Drawn Boy works a treat.

Given the premise, it could have ended up as a trite and manufactured two-very-different-people-change-each-others-lives movie with broad laughs. Instead, it's just as interested in stirring the emotions as it is in tickling the funny bone, impressively switching - sometimes instantaneously - from the harrowing to the hilarious (such as Will contemplating after Marcus' mum's suicide attempt: “It was horrible. Horrible. But driving fast behind the ambulance was fantastic.”).

Despite some cracking support (including another fantastic showing from Toni Collette as Marcus' unstable mother Fiona) this is very much a two man, err, boy show. On the one hand, youngster Hoult is a nice-fit as the odd outsider Marcus and shoulders most of the heartfelt material. On the other, in essaying the materialistic-yet-likeable Will, Grant gives both the turn of his career and a character that blokes everywhere will relate to. Ladies, if your man says different, he's lying.

Supplementing both performances is the insightful internal-monologue voiceovers which often give us different perspectives on the same event. For example, while out for lunch with Fiona, Marcus thinks: “If Mum was going to get Will to marry her, she’d have to quit making jokes like that. At least she looked good. I made her put on that nice hairy jumper." while Will muses: “The kid seemed to think this was some kind of date. As for his mum, she was clearly insane and appeared to be wearing some kind of Yeti costume”. Just brilliant.

Funny, touching and so well-observed that commitment-phobic guys everywhere will nod their heads from start to finish, About A Boy is so superior to most rom-coms it deserves its own genre.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2010
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Hugh Grant, who hates kids and loves their mums, becomes friends with an odd 12-year-old boy.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz

Writer: Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz, based on the novel by Nick Hornby

Starring: Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, Sharon Small, Madison Cook, Jordan Cook, Nicholas Hutchison, Ryan Speechley, Joseph Speechley, Natalia Tena

Year: 2002

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

EIFF 2016

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