Friday, March 14, 2014

About a Boy

Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, About a Boy is the story of a rich and unemployed man who becomes a father-figure to a young boy whose mother had tried to kill herself. Directed by Chris and Paul Weitz and screenplay by the Weitz Brothers with Peter Hedges, the film is an exploration into a man who finds himself being attached to a troubled young boy as it would move him away from the carefree lifestyle that he’s become accustomed to. Starring Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, and Nicholas Hoult. About a Boy is a touching and charming film from the Weitz Brothers.

In a world that is often complicated, there is the need of a back-up so that someone can turn to that person whenever a parent is unable to do that. That’s what the film is sort of about where it explores the lives of a rich slacker and a 12-year old boy who come together through troubling circumstances when the latter’s depressed mother attempted suicide. For the mid-30s slacker Will Freeman (Hugh Grant), the presence of the 12-year old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) gives him something to do to get away from the already very comfortable slacker lifestyle that he has where he basically collects royalties from a popular Christmas song his father wrote. For Marcus, going to Will’s house would give him the escape he needs not just from his troubled mother but also bullies and such that’s plaguing his adolescence. There, the two help each other in their lives where they also realize how much they need each other.

The film’s screenplay has a unique narrative where it follows the lives of both Will and Marcus as the first act showcases the two living very different lives where both of them narrate their own stories. For Will, being a rich slacker with no sense of responsibility and getting a kick out of dating single mothers where the relationships can end amicably makes him feel fulfilled as he claims to be an island. Marcus’ life in the first is anything but good as he’s an oddball kid who will unknowingly sing a song in class, be bullied, and deal with his mother Fiona (Toni Collette) who has become severely depressed. The two would meet on a day in the park where Will goes out with a single mother who happens to be a friend of Fiona as Marcus joins them where they come home finding Fiona passed out from a suicide attempt. The event would affect Marcus as he would turn to Will for companionship as the two not only become friends but also something more as Will would find some fulfillment in Marcus’ presence.

One aspect of the narrative that helps the film is how the relationship between Will and Marcus helps them as it comes to their love life where Will would meet a single mother named Rachel (Rachel Weisz) while Marcus falls for an older classmate named Ellie (Natalia Tena). Things would seem to go well but for Will, who has constantly lied to win women over, finds himself facing the emptiness of his life while things for Marcus also gets more problematic when it comes to his mother. All of which would provide the catalyst for the two to help each other.

The direction of Chris and Paul Weitz is very simple where they definitely choose to shoot the film in London as opposed to setting in America which is quite daring for a mainstream American film. Notably as they use the locations to get a sense of a world that is unique but also universal where a man and a boy deal with their own growing pains. Many of the compositions in the film are very simple and to the point while there’s also some scenes that has some nice humor but also some drama where it isn’t too heavy nor understated. At the same time, there’s elements of style in the use of freeze-frames and slow-motion to play into the kinds of humiliation Will and Marcus endure as it would presented in moments of humor and drama. Overall, Chris and Paul Weitz creates a very engaging and extraordinary film about a unique relationship between a man and a young boy.

Cinematographer Remi Adefarasin does excellent work with the cinematography to play up the different exterior looks of the locations in London from its sunny look at the park to some of the lights in the New Years Eve party scene where Will meets Rachel. Editor Nick Moore does fantastic work with the editing with its usage of freeze-frames and some stylish cuts to play into some of the film‘s humor and drama. Production designer Jim Clay, with set decorator John Bush and supervising art director Rod McLean, does amazing work with the look of Will‘s home with all sorts of cool things to the more quaint home that Fiona and Marcus live in.

Costume designer Joanna Johnston does nice work with the costumes to play into the personalities of the characters with Fiona wearing some very hippie-inspired clothing. Sound editor Richard LeGrand Jr. does terrific work with the sound from some of the sound textures in some of the locations to some of the moments that would add to the drama such as Will hearing his father’s Christmas song. The film’s music by Damon Gough, under his Badly Drawn Boy moniker, is brilliant for its somber, folk-based score with a mixture of acoustic guitars and pianos with a few orchestral arrangements in the background where it would also include some original songs plus a soundtrack by music supervisor Nick Angel who brings in a mix of music ranging from Roberta Flack, Mystikal, U2, the Carpenters, and all sorts of music ranging from hip-hop to pop.

The casting by Priscilla John is great for the ensemble that is featured as it includes some notable small roles from Augustus Prew as Rachel’s teenage son Ali, Sharon Small and Nicholas Hutchinson as friends of Will who ask him to be a godparent of their child, Isabel Brook as a single mother that Will dates early in the film, and Victoria Smurft as another single mother in Suzie that Will dates as she’s a friend of Fiona. Natalia Tena is excellent as the classmate Ellie that Will likes as she takes a liking to him due to his awkwardness which makes for an unusual relationship. Rachel Weisz is wonderful as the single mother Rachel that Will falls for as she would become the one person that would get him away from other women though she is taken aback by the sudden honesty and guilt that he’s been carrying.

Toni Collette is brilliant as Fiona as Marcus’ troubled mother who is dealing with severe depression as she tries to deal with her son’s friendship with Will as well as her own issues where she sometimes unknowingly embarrasses her son. Hugh Grant is amazing as Will Freeman as this carefree slacker who claims to live in his own metaphorical island as he befriends Marcus and starts to care for him while facing the existence of his empty lifestyle. Finally, there’s Nicholas Hoult in a remarkable performance as Marcus where he not only has great rapport with Grant and Collette but also manages to create a very engaging character that deals with being a boy bullied and such as well as feeling like an oddball as it’s a truly astonishing breakthrough for the young actor.

About a Boy is a marvelous film from Chris and Paul Weitz that features top-notch performances from Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult. The film is definitely not just an engaging coming-of-age film that features some humor and very realistic drama but also a film in which a man starts to grow up into an adult. In the end, About a Boy is an extraordinary film from Chris and Paul Weitz.

© thevoid99 2014


ruth said...

I'm usually not a huge fan of Hugh Grant but he's really good here. I like this movie quite a bit as well, and Nicholas Hoult was a great child actor. Interesting to see him grow up to be such a tall guy now, and dating Jennifer Lawrence too, not bad, ahah.

In any case, I like the unlikely friendship between a man and a young boy, your review made me want to see this again soon.

thevoid99 said...

I think this is my favorite Hugh Grant performance because he often plays very stuffy or aloof Englishmen in films. Here, he plays something very different which makes it more engaging while it's amazing to see where Nicholas Hoult was then and now.