About a Boy

I liked this film a lot more than I thought I would. First, I must confess to having a soft spot for Hugh Grant. I remember his earlier, less cutesy performances in such films as Lair of the White Worm and Remains of the Day and longed to see him do something more interesting than the stuttering, lovable token Brit he usually plays. In About a Boy he loses the cowlick, sharpens up the cynicism and the self-loathing, and becomes a new and intriguing character – that is, until the end of the story, when he rediscovers his own inner Hugh Grant and gets all cutesy on us again.

About a Boy is another adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel – the first was the Americanized High Fidelity – and like its predecessor, it captures the soul of Hornby's contemporary urban bachelor pretty well, while glossing over the more audience-limiting details of his stories. In this case, an entire subplot about a character being obsessed with Kurt Cobain – hence the title, which is a play on Nirvana's "About a Girl" – is dropped entirely, either because the filmmakers didn't want to set the story in 1993 or because Courtney Love refused to give them the rights to Nirvana's music.

In any event, Grant plays a shallow slacker who, living off the royalties of his late father's schlocky Christmas song, has led a life of leisure with no responsibilities. Proud of his womanizing, he infiltrates a single parents group in order to chat up horny single moms, and through a string of complications that I don't have the energy to relate, he ends up befriending a lonely 12-year-old boy (newcomer Nicholas Hoult, a natural) whose own single mom (the always interesting Toni Collette) is constantly on the verge of suicide.

Slowly, reluctantly, man and boy bond. And amazingly, it's nowhere near as cloying as it sounds. Of course everything winds up all right at the end, but in the meantime you will at least be treated to some perceptive wit, a London closer to the real thing than we usually see in movies, and performances that are genuinely fresh and lived-in.