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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/5/03

About a Boy
Widescreen - 2002 (2003) - Studio Canal/Working Title (Universal)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

About a Boy (Widescreen) Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A-/C+

Specs and Features
112 mins, PG-13, widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), audio commentary (with directors Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz), The Making of About a Boy featurette (11 mins), 7 deleted scenes (14 mins), a featurette on composer Badly Drawn Boy (22 mins), 2 music videos, "Santa's Super Sleigh" lyrics, English-to-English dictionary, productions notes, filmographies, 6 theatrical trailers, film-themed animated menu screens with music, scene access (21 chapters), language: English and French (DD 5.1) subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"In my opinion, all men are islands. And what's more, now's the time to be one. This is an island age."

The novels of one of my favorite contemporary writers, Nick Hornby, have had a odd track record with film adaptations, odd considering that very English author's work brims with contemporary ideas and pop culture references. His first novel Fever Pitch was made turned into a film in 1998, modestly successful in Britain and has rarely been seen in America. His second, High Fidelity, adapted in 2000, was re-written into an American production staring John Cusack where the results were... polarizing.

But About a Boy has bucked this trend with Nick Hornby adaptations creating a film that is engaging, remains true to the book, and actually improves on it. For a film of many strengths, it's greatest comes from the Brothers Weitz. Paul and Chris Weitz are probably best known as the creators of the American Pie series, so it came as much of a shock to me as anyone else that they were more than capable to tackle a more adult film with more complex subject matter. Serving as the film's directors as well as writers (along with Peter Hedges), they've created a world so exact in description, a story that couldn't take place in any other time or location, but with a message so universal.

Hugh Grant puts some of his smugness aside and lets out some of his best work since Maurice or Impromptu. Grant's Will is a man who has never had any responsibility in his life, he has simply bought all of the coolest new toys, dated all of the hot women that he could find, and lived coolly off of his late songwriter father's residual checks. While dating one woman, who later informs him that she is a single mother, he finds that these types of women are needy, thus making Will feel wanted. Of course, Will doesn't view this in an analytical context, rather that the world of needy single mothers has a demand, which as a man he can supply.

Thus Will invents a young son so that he can get close to Suzie, the fantasy "hot, single mother" which Will has envisioned. Instead of finding that she needs Will, he finds a third party who needs him even more. His name is Marcus, a twelve-year old boy, well played by newcomer Nicolas Hoult. Suzie has agreed to baby-sit Marcus for an afternoon, which turns memorable when Marcus's depressed mother tries to commit suicide. As she recovers, Marcus worries that she might attempt to commit suicide again and tries to draft Will as additional support. But while Marcus won't admit that he really desires a father, the weary Will isn't quick to admit that he desires the validation as well.

About a Boy is really about two boys who, while they differ in age, desire the same thing: to be needed. The interplay between "veteran" Grant and newcomer Hoult is touching to watch, as two men who are becoming more like the father and the son that they so desperately need.

Without ruining everything, I will say that Will and Marcus's mother Fiona (an always Oscar-worthy Toni Collette) do not get together at the end. The film does have a happy ending, but it's not the Hollywood endings that we are so used to from films like these. A tied up ending like that would cheat the intelligent members of the audience, as well as cheat Hornby's original work and ideas. Yet, it's unique energy and themes are what make About a Boy so captivating and almost magical, an odd attribute for anything that takes place in modern times.

Universal is becoming more consistent with the quality of their DVD releases, and About a Boy is certainly part of the rule rather than the exception. The transfer provided is excellent. On the video side, colors are well saturated, and at times, subtle. Black maintains a nice deep level, and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. There is low contrast in the picture, but this is part of the original cinematography to give a subtle feeling of loss. (Be aware that there is a separate full-frame edition available.)

On the audio side of things, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is delightful, if nothing but to fully honor the wonderful score by Badly Drawn Boy. His joyous music engulfs you when necessary, and gives the film a somewhat surreal feel with the score blending into the more traditional elements like crowd noise and rain. It's a hard feeling to describe, other than the music feels like it's a natural part of the world these characters live in, more than in any other film that I've seen. The sounds are natural and spacious, there is no compressed feeling to the soundtrack, and the low end is quite nice for the amount of music material in the mix.

Included is a full-length scene specific commentary by co-writers and co-directors Paul and Chris Weitz, who reveal to be very competent filmmakers. The detail behind what they are describing, from lens choices to lighting, lend the sense that they came into the project very focused, and their comments might bore casual viewers, are pretty fascinating to budding filmmakers. They also give a bit of detail to the changes from the novel to the script and why certain elements were changed or removed. Although blasted by some critics for the ending, I actually think it was more cinematic and works well.

A Spotlight on Location featurette gives us the usual promotional piece interviews with cast and crew, along with author Nick Hornby. There is a decent wealth of material here. Hornby describes what type of stories he likes to tell, the Weitz brothers go into some detail as to why they chose to tackle the project, and Hugh Grant describes wanting to tackle a role a bit different that his usual variety.

There are a variety of deleted and extended scenes that total about fourteen minutes, all non-anamorphic, and material included are longer scenes of Will, Marcus, and Fiona meeting up for lunch, including a length scene where they stand in line, more of Will "preparing" to have a fake child, and an alternate end scene which seems much to abbreviated. A commentary with the Brother Weitz is included, but it is pretty clear to see why these didn't make the final cut.

There is also a trio of features focusing on composer Damon Gough (a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy). First up is an interview segment with the artist that originally aired on British television. The private musician is quite candid here, really giving you an inside look at his creative process and glimpses of several music videos. The disc also includes non-anamorphic widescreen music videos for Something to Talk About which takes a memorable scene from the film and gives it a new meaning, and Silent Sigh which takes the video for the previous even further.

Also included is an English to English dictionary, a video featurette which translates words and phrases like the popular "shag" and the baffling to American audiences "taking the piss." (It means, "to joke.") There are filmographies and extensive production notes, and (non-anamorphic) trailers included are for Possession, A Beautiful Mind, Meet the Parents, Notting Hill, Erin Brokovich, Family Man, Johnny English, About a Boy's video trailer, and a trailer for the soundtrack.

Universal has given this disc a rather nice release, considering that it's not a special edition. The extras are actually worth your time, and the transfer is pretty spotless. Even so, About a Boy would come recommended anyway, as a touching comedy that's actually worthy of its Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Graham Greenlee

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