I have a theory in life. Well, it's more like a theory in cinema. Films shouldn't be judged against any literary source material they may have been adapted from. So, as a rule, I don't read books that I know have movies in production. It saves me the trouble of being prejudiced. Though I didn't read Nick Hornby's novel "About a Boy," my friend Adam, who joined me at the advance screening of the cinematic adaptation, did. It's interesting to note that the minute he pointed out that the flick was deviating from the book, things took a slight turn for the worse in the otherwise excellent comedy.
Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) is a carefree Londoner who is quite pleased with his single lifestyle. When he dates, he doesn't do it for the companionship, but for the sex. He lives the blissful sort of isolated existence that I wish that I wanted. Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) is an awkward young boy who lives with a depressed single mother (Toni Collette). He is also isolated and alone, but for every bit of joy that Will extracts from the experience, Marcus has nought but misery.
The two completely different worlds collide when Will invents a fake 2-year-old son to pick up single mothers. A series of events has Marcus deciding that he needs a dad, and Will seems to be a convenient chap to fill the slot. What ensues is a friendship that changes both of the guys.
Of course, for every trite and cliché bit that could be in About a Boy, there's an almost refreshing sense of biting humor. Will's very well aware of what this kid's doing to him, and he doesn't like it in the least. Marcus, on the other hand, figures out exactly how useless Will is fairly quickly, but still keeps coming around to his flat because he needs the company.
Will comes off as a less miserable, more shallow version of Rob Gordon from High Fidelity (also based on a Hornby novel). Both he and Marcus tell the majority of their tale in highly ironic observational internal monologues that hold the world at arm's length and say, "Gads, that's screwed up."
However, the film decides to drop the humor 3/4s in and go a bit Hollywood by showing Will becoming a humorless prick when he realizes what a waste his life has been. Gone are the acute observations of life, love, and idiots out walking around. Gone is the bitter irony. The whole affair comes to a sloggy stop (and, you guessed it, this is the part where my friend started complaining about deviation from the book). Luckily, things pick up for a great conclusion that wraps things up while not bowing to (too much) sentimentality.
Grant is in top form here. Up until this point, I thought that I preferred him in his befuddled romantic mode (a la Notting Hill), but I've changed my mind. I like him better as an unrepentant ass. He's just funnier that way. His timing is perfect, his delivery dead-on, and he even manages to come off as somewhat charming when saying the cruelest of things.
Hoult, easily the best child performer I've seen since Haley Joel Osment got freaked out by the dead, is criminally regelated to seventh billing, despite being more important than any other actor in the film other than Grant. His very strong British accent is a bit of a hinderance early on, but once you get used to it, the dialect barrier disappears.
About a Boy is an enjoyable comic romp, with a sharp wit and an even sharper cast. Unfortunately, it may get drowned out in the face of much bigger, much better hyped releases (*cough*attackoftheclones*cough*). Honestly, though, try to sneak past the lightsaber wielding masses and give this one a go. It's good fun.