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About a Boy (Chris and Paul Weitz) 2002
The early scenes in Chris and Paul Weitzís About a Boy seem to be daring the audience to laugh. Weíre introduced to Will (Hugh Grant), a lazy bachelor thatís so loathsome and sarcastic that we canít quite trust anything that he says or does. Grant is something like a used car salesman here. Heís trying to sell himself to us with a toothy grin that he pulls out whenever heís lying to us. Heís not conventionally charming here, but instead uses his charm as a way of making us overlook his serious character flaws. Even though we suspect the worst, we want to believe him, since heís the ďheroĒ in this story, and most of the movieís charms seem tentative as a result of this uneasy relationship with him. ďYes, I really am that shallow,Ē he tells a friend early on, and the too-convincing buildup of Willís bad qualities make it that much tougher to swallow the uplift that follows.
The movie, set in London, relies on a series of implausible events that place Will squarely in the affections of Marcus, a pasty young kid that looks like he might have been a Harry Potter reject. The two inevitably enrich each other with their presence, and the road to emotional enlightenment is set upon. It's familiar material done with a level of intelligence thatís slightly above average, but as the movie proceeds toward its touchy-feely conclusion, you canít help but shake the feeling that you were having more fun with the old, sarcastic, lying Will. Thereís a reason that Will, who enjoys the flashy tchotchkes of his bachelorhood, chose to live the way that he did, and thatís because it is much more exciting than settling down.
The filmís trajectory is predictable, but you keep wishing that the film would return to the toothiness of the opening scenes, and since it never does itís a disappointment. The supporting cast is acceptable, but no one is allowed to show anything near the charisma that Grant did. Most of the British cast is exploited for their freakishness early on, so the filmís attempts to make us love their eccentricities later on are strained. Luckily there are a few intermittent laughs, but they donít come from the jokes that the movie spends its time building up to (the climactic talent show, for example, is not at all funny). The small quips and reactions, where Will momentarily reverts to his old self, are the only things that keep us interested in About a Boy.
* * 1/2