The film About a Boy
is one of those (like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
or Bonfire of the Vanities
) that it is better to see before
reading the book.
As in the book, the story concerns a thirtyish English guy, Will (Hugh Grant) who lives off the royalties of a ridiculously twee Christmas carol written by his father. This income makes it unnecessary for him to work, so he happily drifts through life, buying CDs and watching game shows and getting his hair cut.
All of this is then complicated by his getting the bright idea of dating single mothers (he figures they will be more likely to go out with him) which leads to him meeting the Boy of the title. (Or is Grant supposed to be the boy? Or is it both??)
Anyway, contrary to the impression given by the trailer for the film, the Boy (Nicholas Hoult) rather than the Girl (Rachel Weisz) is really the focus of the movie. After meeting Marcus (the Boy) and his mother (Toni Collette) at a single parenting support group with a rather unattractive acronymical name like SPLAT (I forget what it really is, but something like that), Will becomes entangled with their lives due to an improbable series of events involving a duck and a loaf of bread.
!! Important Plot Point Alert!!
Don't keep reading if you don't want to know what happens next.
At this point, the lightheartedness takes a turn down Lonely Street when Boy's mother attempts suicide. He doesn't really have any other adults in his life, so he basically adopts Will, showing up at this house to watch game shows and hang out. Gradually, of course, Will comes to Care For Marcus in his own shallow way, and tries to help him out by buying him stylish tennis shoes and Mystikal CDs, being shocked and embarrassed at the tacky earnestness shown by Marcus and his mother as they sing "Killing Me Softly" around the piano.
This helps for a while, but when Marcus's mother starts slipping back into depression again, Will can't really deal with the intensity of the situation and isn't much help. So, Marcus decides that since his singing is the only thing that makes his mother happy, he will commit social suicide by singing Killing Me Softly (the Roberta Flack version, of course, not the Fugees) at the school talent show.
Meanwhile, Will has finally met The Girl, and realizes that he is just not interesting enough to hold the attention of someone as cool as she is, and there is some business where he gets Marcus to pretend he is his son in order to seem like he has depth. Anyway, it all comes together in a schmaltzy climax where Will accompanies Marcus on the guitar in the talent show and they all live happily ever after.
This isn't a bad thing, really, and I loved the movie, but when I read the book afterwards, I realized that the film entirely misses the whole point of the book, which doesn't have the same pat ending, and involves the death of Kurt Cobain in a rather sad and touching way.
Basically, the film is saying that you shouldn't conform to society's worship of pop culture; that you should stick to your guns and be a geek, goddammit, and then your mom won't kill herself and/or you'll get a hot girlfriend.
What the book says, though, and what I think is a much more difficult and interesting truth, is that sometimes you have to give up some of your individuality in order to fuction normally in society. In the end of the book, when Will asks him about the song, Marcus says something about how lame "Killing Me Softly" is--he's become a normal kid, but he's lost something as well. This isn't meant to be tragic, though; it's better than being tortured every day at school.
Main Cast and Crew
Hugh Grant .... Will
Toni Collette .... Fiona
Nicholas Hoult .... Marcus
Rachel Weisz .... Rachel
Nat Gastiain Tena .... Ellie
Directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz
Screenplay by Peter Hedges, based on the novel by Nick Hornby