If, in a thousand years, cultural scientists are unearthing cinematic artifacts from our time, they'll be able to chart the evolution of Hugh Grant's career simply by his hair. And their records will show that with About A Boy, he's made another satisfying leap forward. Gone is the floppy fringe of Four Weddings and Bridget Jones, eroded by time and fashion into the fashionably spiky mess that adorns his noggin. And, in Working Title's adaptation of the bestseller by thirtysomething strife specialist Nick Hornby, his spikier attitude makes him perfect to portray one of the author's stalwart new man/lad hybrids. So what we get is the ideal blend: a sarcastic, materialistic schemer who still manages to be charming and appealing.
Hugh plays layabout Will Freeman (Free man. Geddit?), living the easy life off the royalties from an annoying Christmas ditty penned by his dad years ago. Content to watch TV, browse music shops and look fashionable, he's a perpetual liar who can't hold down relationships and, frankly, doesn't want to. Then a brief fling with a single mother opens his eyes to a whole new world of devious possibilities: there's a wellspring of desperate, sprogged-up women out there, all just waiting for 'good guy Will' to offer them comfort, carnal frolics and contact with the world beyond potty training. But his duplicitous plans (including inventing a son) go awry when he meets hippy mom Fiona (Toni Collette) and her 12-year-old son Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). Could this pair of mismatched immature males teach each other a valuable lesson? What do you think?
This isn't exactly challenging stuff (it's a frothy Britcom, not a Fincher flick), but the journey to the comfy finale is loaded with Grant-fired comedy zingers, a well-rounded performance from newcomer Hoult and some inspired characters. The romance angle never descends into slush, while the two-tier coming-of-age tale makes salient points about masculinity without ever descending into therapy-speak nonsense.
The seemingly strange choice of American Pie directors Paul and Chris Weitz to adapt this British tale has paid off as the brothers deliver a punchy, smirking script,laced with irreverence.
Just as importantly, there's real chemistry between Grant and his young co-star. Hoult is almost a Grant mini-me and you'll be rooting for the pair of them to sort their lives out as they bond over telly, trainers and tantrums. No mean achievement considering both of them are playing potentially dislikeable characters. But if Grant takes a while to hook your sympathies, he'll sure get them when he straps on a guitar and delivers an excruciating - and excruciatingly funny - rendition of `Killing Me Softly' in front of an entire school.
After all the hype about Bridget and her diary last year, blokes finally have their own icon to cheer for.
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It doesn't exactly dump the Working Title formula, but this is a pleasingly skewed Britcom that can be watched with mates or the other half. And, boy, is it funny.