Wonder Boys

Wonder Boys


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It is easy to forget what a good actor Michael Douglas is. His off screen persona highlights the sexually active roles (Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Disclosure) in favour of the tough stuff (Falling Down, The Game, Wall Street).

As Grady, he surpasses himself. In superficial ways, this man is a cliche, the once lionised writer who cannot follow up his first novel, employed as a teacher at the University of Pittsburgh, hassled by his New York editor, smoking too much dope, involved in an affair with the head of the English department's wife (Frances McDormand), losing the feel of solid ground beneath his feet and yet going through the motions as if the concept of a mid-life crisis is so much hogwash. And then his wife walks out. Could things get any worse?

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The title is misleading. It sounds like a teen flick when, in fact, it is the most intelligent American movie since The Ice Storm to deal with the dissolution of promise, the death of ideals and how creative passion is a form of insanity.

Grady exists on the edge of catastrophe, where normal rules merge into make-believe, beyond which nothing really matters. His star pupil (Tobey Maguire) is a worryingly good writer and a strange boy ("He knows all the movie suicides"), who says he sleeps in the bus station. His editor (Robert Downey Jr) believes in the chaos theory, especially concerning himself, and takes pleasure in playing destructive emotional games.

The script by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by Michael Chabon, relies heavily on narrative voice-over, but is clever and witty nevertheless. Snowflaked Pittsburgh makes an ideal backdrop to Grady's adventures in the abyss, although the ending is a cop-out.

Douglas is magnificent, hobbling about in a ragged pink robe, unshaven, defiant, falling to pieces without apology. The hobbling is due to Slugger, a blind dog, that took a chunk out of his leg. Good riddance, you might think. Poor Slugger. He had a worse day.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Mid-life crisis for once-famous writer in snowy Pittsburgh.
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Director: Curtis Hanson

Writer: Steve Kloves, based on the novel by Michael Chabon

Starring: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes, Robert Downey Jr, Rip Torn

Year: 2000

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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