About a Boy Brings Out the Very Best of Hugh Grant
By Eleanor Laurence
Hugh Grant is the master of adorable, bumbling loners, playing each with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He’s riffed on the type in Three Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually. But it’s in About a Boy that the charming Grant meets his match: a 13-year-old Nicholas Hoult.
The movie opens on Hugh Grant’s character, Will, watching Jeopardy on TV. “Who wrote the phrase ‘No man is an island?’” queries Alex Trebek. Cue signature Grant voiceover (really, what is Hugh Grant film without a solid V.O. alerting you to settle in for cozy, comedy vibes?): “In my opinion, all men are islands, and what’s more, now’s the time to be one.” Of course, this statement, made ever so confidently, is a false hypothesis — one the rest of the movie rebuffs to comedic effect.
Grant’s cynical Will is set on maintaining minimal emotional contact with the world; Nicholas Hoult’s character, Marcus, is the hopeless romantic bulldozing into his life. He’s a middle schooler with a depressive single mom (played brilliantly by Toni Collette), in desperate need of a mentor. And while Will is just about the last person you could possibly imagine giving life advice, in the absence of literally anyone else, he’ll have to do. The mentor quickly becomes the mentee, however, when Will falls for a single mom and implores Marcus to pose as his son. How the hijinks on that particular plot point resolves itself, you’ll have to watch to find out.
The beauty of About a Boy (which is based on a Nick Hornby novel by the same name) is it never once feels cliche. Heartwarming? Yes. Predictable? At times. But the dialogue is sophisticated, the jokes original and the characters — most important of all — believable. Will, wealthy and carefree, seems content drifting along until young Marcus enters his life. He becomes the parent figure Marcus desperately needs (certainly not the one he deserves). For his part, Marcus plays the role of son to the best of his wingman capabilities.
While About a Boy certainly shares qualities with the romantic comedy genre, romance takes a backseat to the larger story of friendship between Will and Marcus, and the lessons each imparts on the other. More specifically, it tracks how lives collide, knocking people off the course they’d resigned themselves to. It’s a beautiful coming of age tale — for Marcus, but also for Will, the man able to avoid growing up until life barges through his door in the shape of this boy lost in the wilds of pre-adolescence, demanding attention.
**Extra props to anyone who spots the Game of Thrones cast member cameo. (Hint: Natalia Tena.)