Tuesday, July 24, 2007


ABOUT A BOY (2002, UK/USA/France/Germany, Chris & Paul Weitz, screenplay with Peter Hedges from Nick Hornby novel)
Let's play “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” Who wrote the phrase "No man is an island"? John Donne? John Milton? John F. Kennedy? Jon Bon Jovi?
Jon Bon Jovi. Too easy. And, if I may say so, a complete load of bollocks. In my opinion, all men are islands. I like to think I’m Ibiza.

It starts with a quote from metaphysical poet John Donne and, surprisingly enough for a comedy from the directors of AMERICAN PIE, it follows through. Or not so surprising, considering Hornby and Hedges. The former’s “lout lit” is sort of turn-of-the-millenium Jane Austen for guys, tracing small awakenings of consciousness and conscience in oblivious, self-preoccupied lads – HI FIDELITY was made into a terrific film, HOW TO BE GOOD ought to be. And screenwriter Hedges brings all the heart and smarts (and, I suspect, spiritual orientation, though I’ve got no proof) that make WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE? and especially PIECES OF APRIL such quintessential soul food. About the latter film Jeffrey Overstreet remarked “It takes a village to cook a turkey,” and here’s the same sort of story – though this turkey happens to be heir to a fortune gleaned from his father’s songwriting, and he doesn’t get cooked so much as thawed.

The film richly rewards close viewing: look at the craftsmanship in how the stories of Will and Marcus are interwoven and juxtaposed, consider how each of the characters is given complexity and humanity (even and especially Marcus’s mum, so easy – and cheap – an opportunity for caricature), and watch how many thematic and narrative strands come together in the beautifully set up Christmas scene that closes the film. (Compare the PIECES OF APRIL Thanksgiving. Hm...) And what an extraordinary scene of self-sacrifice – even self-immolation – at the school talent show! What was in the zeitgeist when that scene was being dreamt up, along with those of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and LOVE, ACTUALLY?

Theologian Rick Watts observes how much a departure the film is from the received doctrine of current American screenwriting, the Joseph Campbell-derived obsession with the loner hero: ABOUT A BOY (along with films like THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) is not essentially an individualistic journey. It interrogates our culture’s addiction to wealth, image, leisure (okay, let’s just come out and say it: sloth), and self, and ends up earning its John Donne reference. Who wants to be a millionaire, indeed!

Available at Videomatica

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