- 2002 (2003) - Studio Canal/Working Title (Universal)
by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
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
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,
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.