I love Hugh Grant. I won’t deny it. Four Weddings and a Funeral is on my list of all-time favorite movies. But even if you don’t like him, you should enjoy his latest, About a Boy.

On the surface, About a Boy sounds like this year’s “feel good” film. Selfish bachelor reluctantly develops an unlikely friendship with an adolescent boy and becomes a better man for it. It sounds sappy but in fact it’s anything but. It’s sharp and funny – and moving and poignant – and a lot deeper than you might expect.

About a Boy is based on the best-selling novel by Nick Hornby (who also wrote High Fidelity, which became a wonderful movie starring John Cusack). Grant stars as Will Freeman, a 38-year-old child who has never held a job or had a relationship that lasted longer than two months and he likes it like that.

Living off the royalties from a novelty Christmas song his father wrote in 1958, Will leads a full life: buying high-tech toys, surfing the net, getting his hair styled, playing billiards – and dating and dumping one woman after another.

After a divorced mother of a 3-year-old dumps him because she’s not ready for a new relationship, he suddenly realizes that single mothers might be just the gold mine he’s looking for – attractive young women who have been rejected by the fathers of their children and thus are grateful for a man like Will. He makes up a 2-year-old son, “Ned,” but his attention span is so short he frequently draws a blank when someone asks about the toddler.

Still, the ruse works for awhile but then along comes 12-year-old misfit, Marcus.

Marcus’ mother is the seriously depressed Fiona (Toni Collette), a leftist/hippie type whose mantra to Marcus is “You are not a sheep.” She’s taught him to be disinterested in clothes and hair styles, but she’s clueless to the fact that he’s constantly tormented at school precisely because he stands out from the crowd (even the nerds don’t want to be associated with him because he attracts bullies).

After Fiona tries to commit suicide, Marcus decides that two people aren’t enough for a family; you need “backup.” He decides Will is going to be his father figure whether Will wants to be or not.

Nicholas Hoult plays Marcus and he’s amazing. He’s not “cute” – in fact, he’s just plain weird looking. You can certainly see why Will wants nothing to do with him.

Marcus doesn’t let that stop him, though. Marcus doesn’t let much stop him.

About a Boy follows the book closely until the final act, which is a little forced but hilarious just the same. But don’t go to About a Boy expecting a wacky romantic comedy. It’s much more than that. It’s full of laughs but it’s also full of charm, sly wit and real emotions.

The author can be reached at crummel@pww.org

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