I think I smiled all the way through `About a Boy,' a comic near-masterpiece derived from the best-selling novel by Nick Hornby. For the sake of accuracy, both the novel and the film should more rightly be titled `About TWO Boys,' since the story focuses not only on 12-year old Marcus, but on 38-year old Will, a man totally dedicated to the proposition that any man who so desires can live quite happily on his own private little urban island, thank you very much. Will's `island' is his own London flat, which he has equipped with all the accoutrements of comfort and diversion that modern technology in the form of computers, big screen TV's and DVD players - can afford. Who needs people when you have so much `stuff' to keep you content and occupied? Will thrives in his environment, much to the chagrin of his married couple friends who keep insisting that he must certainly be miserable without a wife and family to give his life meaning. But Will loves being shallow a fact of his personality he is more than willing to declare right up front and the last thing he needs or thinks he needs is people to clutter it up. Yet, island dwellers have a tendency not to remain marooned for long, and, before he knows it, Will finds himself striking up a relationship with a lonely, backward boy named Marcus, whose mother suffers from serious bouts of suicidal depression.
More than any comedy in recent memory, `About a Boy' establishes a tone and sticks with it to the end. The screenplay by Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz (the latter two function as the film's directors as well) manages to take a potentially clichéd and predictable story and invest it with a warmth, wit and tenderness that are all-enveloping. The voice-over narration by both Will and Marcus, which introduces us to their characters and keeps us informed as to their mental progress throughout the film, is remarkably clever and droll. Yet, the characters never come across as smug, smart-alecky or flippant. Rather, they speak and behave in ways that are both believable and realistic. Hugh Grant gives his richest performance to date as Will, the man who refuses to grow up and assume the role of responsible adult, blithely unaware of the emotional depths that lie hidden under a surface of apathy and indifference. The superb Grant is more than matched by relative newcomer Nicholas Hoult, an extraordinarily gifted young actor who doesn't look like the average `adorable' screen kid, and who makes Marcus into a very real, very likable and very sensitive young man. The remainder of the large cast is outstanding as well. Moreover, the film is very astute in its observation about just how easy technology has made it for us to isolate ourselves from one another. Admittedly, a little of the sharpness does go out of the screenplay in its closing stretches, but not enough to diminish one's pleasure appreciably.
In many ways, `About a Boy' is a movie that needs to be experienced first hand, since mere words fail to convey the very special charm and spell it manages to cast over the viewer. Rush to see it. Comic gems like this one don't come around very often!