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by Karma Waltonen

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I recently taught both the book and film versions of ABOUT A BOY. I found that many of my students had resisted seeing the movie because it featured Hugh Grant. They just didn't want to see a self-centered, shallow, hot guy playing a self-centered, shallow, hot guy, although I thought the casting was perfect (it's those same qualities that made Grant's part in BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY so successful). (1)

If you've abjured this film because of Mr. Grant, I encourage you to give it a second try, and not just because Grant is so good in it. It also features Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, and the music of Badly Drawn Boy. Hell, this movie should be watched if only for the soundtrack (and then you should buy the soundtrack). This is, in fact, one of the few films with a soundtrack by one band. (2)

This is also one of the few films that is as good as the book from whence it came.

ABOUT A BOY was written by Nick Hornby, author of several books, including HIGH FIDELITY and FEVER PITCH. He writes copiously about sports, music, and London, where he lives. One of the few popular cross-over authors, he has won both British and American writing awards. ABOUT A BOY the book was published in 1998, but was set specifically in 1993, referencing the popular culture of that year. While the novel is in 3rd person limited perspective, chapters switch from the point of view of Marcus, a young teenager, and Will, a narcissistic man living off the royalties of his father's one-hit wonder song.

The title is both a play on the title of a Nirvana song, "About a Girl," and
two of my favourite boys

two of my favourite boys
an invitation to see both characters as boys and to consider whether either has grown closer to manhood by the end. Nirvana plays a big role in the book, as does Joni Mitchell's song, "From Both Sides Now." Texts featured in other works, whose presence is meant to reverberate meaning through the frame text, are called intertexts. References to Mitchell's song, for example, remind us that we're getting this story from both sides—from both characters.

The film adaptation (which was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay) was released in 2002. Its cultural references have been updated—we lose Nirvana and gain WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE (just at the beginning—don't let that put you off). (3) The film is unique in having a dual voice over (which is surprisingly effective and allows for much of the charm of the book to carry through). It also has dual directors: Chris and Paul Weitz.

The cinematography serves to underline the two main characters' isolation and the way they are paralleled. For example, when Will decides to date a single mother, but starts having second thoughts about the relationship, the camera pans from the two of them on the couch until Will, who has been complaining about the t.v. at her house, is cut off from her in the frame by the t.v. Both Will and Marcus have moments where the camera pans 360 around them as they narrate. They also both have moments of freeze frame (just as they're about to be hit in the head).

Many of the lines from the film come from the book, but the end is dramatically different. The end of the
I love hippie-Toni Collette

I love hippie-Toni Collette
movie . . . well, it feels more like an end to a movie. Marcus undergoes greater change in the book, while Will saves the day in the film. (The movie also has Will's love interest respond more realistically to certain facts about him.) The film's ending makes it clear why Roberta Flack, rather than Joni Mitchell, provides our intertext—you can kill someone softly with your song.

Both the film and the movie pose a question—if you're not defined by your job and you're not defined by relationships, are you "a blank"? While we certainly can exist outside of jobs and relationships, Hornby's text seems to say that we don't matter outside these things. Think about the first things we ask about people—what do you do? are you coupled? I'm unsettled by this. Maybe it's because I'm a workaholic—someone who works very hard because it's emotionally difficult to separate identity from work. As much as I love these works, they don't give me hope that my calling card can one day just have my name on it.

Or maybe it can just say: Karma Waltonen, ABOUT A BOY fan.

(1) Brad Pitt turned this role down. He said any character he played would not be as desperate as Will is to meet women. I dare you to watch this film imagining Brad Pitt in every scene—it doesn't work, but not because of his self-proclaimed over-powering hotness.

(2) FLASH GORDON is one of the other films with a one-band soundtrack.

(3) It was John Donne who said "No man is an island," by the way.

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Comedies with Dr. Karma
Every other Wednesday

Dr. Karma discusses all things comic, from the classics to what may become classics. Laugh with, but not at, her, please.

Other Columns
Other columns by Karma Waltonen:

Goodbye -- Dr. Karma

The Dictator and Dark Shadows

Pirates and Whedon Movies: In Theatres Now!

A Touch of Cult

Our Random Favorites

All Columns

Karma Waltonen
Dr. Karma is a silly, nerdy know-it-all, but in a good way. She brings all her overeducation to discuss that which truly matters: comedy. As some famous guy once said: “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘tis that I may not weep.” Or something like that.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Karma Waltonen by clicking here.

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