Wonder Boys

Michael Douglas puts in a rare sympathetic role as an uninspired, pot-addled university professor who's notable for his acclaimed novel The Arsonist's Daughter. Unfortunately, that novel is seven years old, and he has yet to follow it up with anything, though he continues to work on a rambling new tome that's already hit the 2000-page mark.

Meanwhile, he has to contend with the various kooks in his life: his flaky publisher (Robert Downey, Jr., doing his usual glib shtick), his horny student (Katie Holmes, agreeable but barely in the film), his wise but weary mistress (Frances McDormand, also with relatively little screen time, despite her second billing), and mostly with his talented but strange writing student (Tobey Maguire, whose talents I'm still uncertain of).

There's not really a plot, though things happen: there's some nonsense about a dead dog, a stolen jacket that belonged to Marilyn Monroe, Michael Douglas having a terrible week, etc. Mostly it's a character study, and a fairly amusing one, though its slack narrative reveals its novelistic source material. I didn't think too much about it afterwards, and the ending is really quite smug, but it's mostly a harmless excursion (though an unexpected follow-up for director Curtis Hanson after his blazing L.A. Confidential).

Points to the film for capturing a Pittsburgh winter in all its slushy glory, and also for showing the actual effects that too much marijuana really has on a human being. This isn't Cheech & Chong; it's that loser at work who can't follow simple directions because his synapses no longer connect after too many joints.