Friday, 24 September 2010

About A Boy

I first watched the film years ago, and recently I tried watching it again. The DVD refused to play past track 12 (Where Marcus meets Will's girlfriend's son). I don't know why, since it has no scratches or dirt, but there you go.  I thought about it, and remembered that it was a book, so instead of watching it, I chose to buy the book and read it instead; I'd heard good things about it.

And they were true: it's funny, insightful and it is an interesting study on the relationships between a mature youth and an immature adult. I have to say that on reading, I repeatedly said to myself "Good lord, Hugh Grant was perfect". I'm sorry, Hugh Grant, if you're googling yourself and read this, but you come across as a bit of a tool, like Will.

I think it also quite cleverly critiques the strange trivialities of life and death per individual: the affect one person has upon the world, and how great the effect spreads depending on who that person is. For a mother to commit suicide is sad, and could leave a lost individual growing up blaming himself, but that is a contained fallout. For a world-famous and influential musician to commit suicide produces all sorts of wide-spread grief, as people either lash out or join in the thousands with candle vigils. Attitudes to death vary, too, and even attitudes to suicide as people attempt to deal with the idea in their own way, be it watching a comedy where suicide is treated lightly, or avoiding such and being disgusted at the idea of death being taken so lightly.

What the book is about is in some ways hard to explain, but also somehow stupidly simple: the life of a boy. But it's not exactly one boy that is the focus - it is the 30-something boy prancing about and teaching a 12 year old boy how to behave and look like an actual boy. Together they experience their first love and romance. They are both loners, if for different reasons, and they both are linked by what they perceive to be the selfish, if failed good intentions of a mother.

The dynamic too, between Marcus and Will, as each teaches the other about life and attitudes towards it is quite fun, tragic and interesting.

In comparison to the film, I can't say that there is a terribly large difference. Ellie, the grunge girl that Marcus gets a crush on at school is far more developed a character in the book. You see her family background, her passions and uncontrollable behaviour. You see more of Marcus's father and his inadequacies. The incident at school where Marcus sings at the talent show is fabricated by the film makers.
As I said, Hugh Grant, in my opinion, was excellently cast - and largely down to the fact that he wasn't allowed to play his trademark bumbling twittering ''floppy'' (as my French teacher called it) character. He became the narcissistic sloth that is Will, and certainly one that is perhaps a little in keeping with his later tabloid images.

Toni Collette is fantastic as depressed mum who's completely clueless about the needs of his growing and unhappy son. She is able to also step into the shoes as Will's mum and conscience as she forces him to take responsibility for his strange roll in Marcus's life as adopted father figure. If indeed, ''father figure'' is quite the appropriate term, here, which I don't think it is.

I was delighted to discover as I read the book just how much of it was used in the film - I can't completely vouch for the latter half of the film, as the dvd failed to play, but for the first part, it is certainly Nick Hornby's sardonic writing that is central to the film, with the small edits or additions by the film crew, creating a really rather good film.

Whilst Hugh Grant's voice and face is the last thing I'd want to imagine when reading, for example, Sense and Sensability, when reading About A Boy I was surprised to find that I found that the on-screen Will was the same as the book Will, and the same went for all the other characters, completely.

Of course, I prefer the book, ultimately, and I thought the end of the book was better than the end of the film, but as far as book-to-films go, this one was a successful one.

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