REVIEW: ‘About a Boy’ captures the uncomfortable, inevitable joy of family

Promotional artwork for ‘About a Boy’ courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Father and son. A heartwarming relationship that resonates throughout the entertainment industry in a variety of films such as the beloved How to Train Your Dragon trilogy to acclaimed Big Fish by famous director Tim Burton. Tropes such as these remind viewers of the importance of family, and how one can find a sense of belonging in places where it’s least expected. Directors Paul and Chris Weitz perfectly encapsulates this timeless relationship in an unconventional way at its core through the underrated film About a Boy (2002), reminding us this Easter weekend to keep our family — blood or not — close to our hearts. 

About a Boy is a film surrounding the lives of two main characters. The first, a metrosexual man named Will (Hugh Grant) who is keen on dating women 24/7. The second, a 12-year-old boy named Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) who is having his own problems at home and school. Their unlikely paths cross when Will meets Marcus for the first time after landing a date with a single mother. What the pair don’t know is that their journey through life would help them both in ways they never could have imagined.

The story of About a Boy is one that is beautifully written from start to finish. Will’s sole purpose in life is to have fun, going on dates with numerous women just to have sex with them. He has nothing holding him back, caring little about the consequences of his actions. Until he meets Marcus that is. The ordinary 12-year-old boy drops into Will’s life after a chance encounter and has decided to stick by his side ever since. Marcus himself faces his own problems on the daily, from school bullies to a depressed single mother trying her hardest to provide somewhat of a normal life. His dependence on Will tugs at the viewer’s heartstrings as he looks to him for guidance, while Will does his best to “parent” Marcus even though he himself has no experience whatsoever as a father. Both of their lives are turned upside down in the presence of the other, the tension between them eventually fizzling down into a rewarding relationship flawlessly executing the vision of a Weitz family.

However, the excellent storytelling is accredited to the atypical style of writing and dialogue heard throughout the film. The separate dialogues of Will and Marcus’ own voice along with the voice of their consciousness is a technique rarely seen in the entertainment industry. This bold choice by the directors acts as a vessel for both protagonists to express their real thoughts on the never ending situations happening around them. Will’s consciousness describes himself as an island: single and free of attachments. To an extent, that’s precisely how he feels about his life. Different from his actual voice in the film where he assures the people around him that’s not the case, he deceives them by hiding his true ambitions which is evident through his consciousness. 

Similar to Will, Marcus also undergoes a battle between his own voice and consciousness. His heart wrenching problems at home and the bullying he endures at school is just another fly that he shrugs away. His consciousness tells differently. In reality, these problems greatly affect him in a negative way.  He doesn’t know how to deal with them without the paternal role model he needs in his life. The duality utilized throughout the film is an ideal expression of the internal battle both characters persevere, their struggle of that unfamiliar bond of family a prevalent factor in their relationship and massive contribution to what it means to be a Weitz family. 

The writing and dialogue of About a Boy provides a steady pace throughout the film that effectively tells the story in a manner that allows the viewer to comprehend the point directors were trying to make- to keep your family close to your hearts, whether they’re blood or not. Progression of the film is the key to a crucial part of storytelling, but the Weitz Brothers execution of a steady, yet realistic pacing sets this production apart from many. 

Finally, the biggest component that truly sets About a Boy apart from other films in the entertainment industry are the actors playing the two main protagonists, Will and Marcus. Hugh Grant’s interpretation of Will is exactly how any viewer would perceive the character, a carefree yet charming man with no regards to the consequences of his actions. He’s living a bachelor lifestyle with no attachments keeping him tethered to reality. Grant’s facial expressions and bodily movements when he’s alongside Marcus are stiff. He doesn’t quite grasp how to help Marcus in his troubles, let alone act like the fatherly role model he so much desires. But this slowly dissipates towards the end of the film with his actions becoming “louder” and more meaningful as he embraces the parental role life has dropped into his lap. 

Actor Nicholas Hoult was the same age as his character Marcus when the film debuted. The actor’s own interpretation of Marcus was also visually stunning to watch. His subtle actions to cling on to Grant’s character tells a great deal about the kind of kid Marcus is. He just wants a steady father figure in his life to tell him what to do. Marcus wants to escape the realities of his life of constantly worrying about his mother’s (Toni Collette) mental health and the impending threats of bullies at school. Hoult’s performance is the epitome of his unlikely but endearing relationship with Will, perfectly achieving the meaning of family for the Easter holiday.

Directors Paul and Chris Weitz’s efforts and time have not gone unnoticed in About a Boy. Although not well known and highly underrated, this masterpiece presents all of the components a family movie should contain. From the impeccable writing to the outstanding cast and characters, About a Boy illustrates the exemplary paradigm of an untraditional family dynamic, making it the ideal film to watch in time for Easter. 

About a Boy is rated PG-13. 

Beliah Christian is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl