About a Boy, by Mona Lellsaar

We all are a chain of 'bloody Ibizas', the comedy between sadness and laughter.
About a Boy (Paul and Chris Weitz, 2002)
Mona Lellsaar

One day I was at home zapping TV channels and accidentally bumped into the Top 10 Hugh Grant's films. I was very pleased until I realized that I had arrived a little too late and there was only one film left to be presented. That was the film chosen as the best performance of my favorite actor and was awarded position number one. To my surprise that was not Notting Hill but About a Boy. Since I had not seen this film yet, the first thing I did the next morning was buy the dvd. After watching it I felt I completely agreed with the ranking.

Hugh Grant's character is 38-year-old Londoner Will, a typical slacker, who actually does nothing but buy trendy things, have fun and date as many women as possible. His life is made of units, as he admits: "Buying CDs - two units. Exercising - two units. Having my hair carefully disheveled - four units". And as far as he is concerned his life is very full, depression-free, in one word - perfect. He cares for nobody, gets what he wants and gives nothing in return. He has no need to work, because the royalties he gets from his father's one-hit-wonder Christmas song "Santa's Super Sleigh" are more than enough. He willingly avoids any kinds of commitments and responsibilities.

His friend Christine tries to warn him about the emptiness of his life and says: "You will end up childless and alone," and Will's answer is: "Well, both fingers crossed, yeah". Grant's character completely disagrees with the aphorism of John Donne saying that "No man is an island". He believes himself to really be an island: "I am bloody Ibiza", he says. But the women he goes out with are becoming more and more demanding, and breaking up with them is becoming more complicated. So he gets the brilliant idea of dating single mothers - who are desperate and longing for a passionate affair but understanding enough to see that their child wouldn't like a new dad at home. A gold mine for Will! So he invents the story about having a 2-year-old son Ned and joins the "SPAT" (Single Parents Alone Together) group. That leads him to meet Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a 12-year-old weird kid, who is an outsider at school, has no friends and suffers from constant bullying by older boys. His mother Fiona (Toni Collette) is an emotionally-disturbed hippie, experiencing deep depression. This encounter has a great impact on WillÙs simple and delightful living. He and Marcus become closely attached, and this rather odd friendship changes his entire perspective. For the first time in his life Will starts to think about who he actually is, what he has and what he is doing, or rather what he is not doing.  

The film is directed by the Weitz brothers, who also directed American Pie. That is quite an interesting fact because these two plots have nothing in common but still both are outstanding examples of comedies. In one of his interviews Hugh Grant said about the directors: "Although capable of fabulous infantilism, they're also extremely serious and learned people." And he was also surprised by the friendly co-operation between two brothers: "I have a brother and the idea of directing a film together is unthinkable. There would be blood on the floor before lunchtime. But these two are spookily nice to each other."

The film is an adaptation of the successful novel by Nick Hornby, the well-known author of High Fidelity. This is why we have so many voiceover dialogues, as if Will and Marcus themselves were telling us the story, reading us the book of their lives. This technique brings us closer to the main characters.

I think what makes Grant's performance so amazing in this film is that his character is similar to his own personality. In previous films he played the role of a shy, romantic, loveable guy (Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill, The Englishman Who Went Up The Hill But Came Down The Mountain). He changed this stereotype by starring in Bridget Jones's Diary where he turned into a bastard, but Will is much closer to the actor himself. There is this feeling of ease and lightness in Grant's acting and the image of caring-about-nothing, convinced bachelor appears very naturally. He admits it, saying that he never feels comfortable with children around and is actually frightened of them. Maybe this is why he looks so natural, especially in one of the initial scenes where he has to hold a little baby-girl.

So, About a Boy. About whom particularly? About Marcus? About Will? Perhaps about Ned, Will's imaginary son, because the whole thing started with his appearance? Or about men in general, about a boy inside every person? There could me many interpretations of the title of the film. Another curious thing about it is how it was translated in different countries. At first glance all versions are very similar but still each has put the accent on completely different matters. The original UK and US About a Boy, turned in Spain into Un niño grande - A Big Boy, referring to Will who is despite his age still a child (let us take for instance the scene when Fiona is taken to the hospital and Will is driving behind the ambulance car. He is excited like a little boy on the roller-coaster: "It was terrible! Terrible! But driving really fast behind the ambulance was fantastic!"), or rather to Marcus who is surprisingly mature for a 12-year old lad. Estonians broadened this version to Suur poiss ja väike poiss, that can be translated as A Big Boy and a Small Boy. So both characters are children in fact, the difference is only in their height. In Russian-speaking countries it appeared as Мой мальчик, which means My Boy, making the relationship between Will and Marcus even closer.

About a Boy is an excellent film, delicately balancing sadness and laughter. This is not the kind of comedy where the main character slips on the banana skin with no pants on and finally something really heavy, maybe an iron, falls on his head. Of course, that can also be a masterpiece and there are plenty of examples. No, this comedy walks on a thin line. It is about the people who are having hard times. It deals with really serious matters: for instance, violence in schools, depressed single mothers, and the need of every child to have a father. It speaks openly about painful things and human values. It makes the spectator think and sympathize with moving moments, as well as smile and laugh at brilliant humor. The film concludes, in its happy ending, that in fact a man could be an island - an island that is a part of an archipelago.  


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