Retrospective: About a Boy (2002)


Harry Riedl is a film enthusiast from West London and this continues a series of retrospective reviews on his favourite cult classics.
As it’s starting to get to the run up to Christmas, everyone has a favourite Christmas movie. For me, one of my absolute favourite Christmas films is About a Boy, a movie based off the book by Nick Hornby and one of the rare examples of the movie being better than the book. It’s one of those movies I can watch over and over, again and again.

The plot is simple and in lesser hands it could have been a crass mess, considering from one perspective it’s about a vain womaniser befriending a precocious child. In many ways it’s best to think of it as an anti rom-com as with the central character of child Marcus (Nicholas Holt), it subverts the genre by placing the child at the central focus of the movie. The fact that Holt is utterly charming and believable holds the movie together and steals scenes from more established actors such as Hugh Grant, Rachel Weisz, and Toni Collette. Grant plays Will Freeman, who lives comfortably thanks to the royalties of a Christmas song his father composed. In his efforts to start a relationship with Suzie (Victoria Smurfit) he meets Marcus and gets to know the child.

The plot is introduced nice and early, with duel narration between Will and Marcus both going through ‘a day in the life’ with lightly humorous dialogue. Each character goes through a rather Greek form of character development throughout the film, as the 3 major character go through various stages of emotional development while they supports each other. When it’s discovered Marcus’s mother has attempted to commit suicide, Will’s reaction is a wonderful encapsulation of his character: “it was terrible what happened to his mother but it was brilliant being behind the ambulance”. Will’s attempt to help Marcus at the hospital is the first of many attempts to connect with the child and try to be a force for good. Will’s development as a person has a wonderful uplifting feeling as Hugh Grant puts such genuine character into the role. The fact that they both need each other always feels so genuine.

The use of Badly Drawn Boy’s music is perfect for the mood of depression with signs of hope, as all the central characters carry fairly sizeable issues, which they don’t properly realise until the conclusion of the movie. This is reflected in the music through the deep dark cords, but with uplifting backing music. The movie is set in London and has a greater impact for those who recognise the sites and general geography as it contains none of clichéd tourist spots.

At the heart of the movie is a love story. Even though I said it was an anti rom-com, it does use some of the conventions. The plot is far from faultless as you would have to be an idiot not to know what was going to happen and it’s a bit reliant on loud arguments at restaurants, a device which feels a bit over used. The suburban nature of the movie works to its favour, as it has a strange sense of believability as the characters go about doing normal things (shopping, haircut, swimming etc) which I find strangely rare in movies, but seeing the characters doing this adds to the believability of the situations. The end is very good, so good in fact Love Actually decided to copy a large part of it and use it as its central finishing point.

About a Boy is one of the few movies I can see multiple times because it always feels fresh. I always laugh at the jokes because there is a certain lack of seriousness to the movie although it still feels believable because the characters are so ordinary.  This makes this a particularly personal retrospective because I feel like I know these people and I have met them before at parties or at school or friends of the family.

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