Units of time – what an inspired idea. The only way to truly maximize paltry pleasure in one’s life, while avoiding any productive or meaningful endeavor, is to carefully structure one’s daily activities. Hence, the importance of units of time.
In “About a Boy,” Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) programs his day for optimal frivolity with the skill of someone with years of experience – 38 years to be precise. For Will, a man strongly opposed to the adage “No man is an island” and even more strongly opposed to the concept of work, a day can be most efficiently split into 30-minute units of time: Taking a bath, one unit. Exercising, three units. Having your hair carefully disheveled, four units.
The directors of “American Pie” and the producers of “Meet the Parents” teamed up with the makers of “Notting Hill” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary” to create “About a Boy.” It’s also the latest screen adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel – the previous one being “High Fidelity” with John Cusack.
While “About a Boy” clearly fits within the often-squelchy category of romantic comedy, it has a darker twist less seen in other films from this genre. And Grant himself was a pleasant surprise. Gone was his infamous tousled hairdo, which warranted front-page news attention in the UK – where, apparently, Grant’s forelock is considered a national treasure. Gone too was his bumbling, self-deprecating, yet oh-so-adorable persona. OK, so his charm still lingered, but the character portrayal was less shallow, even if the character himself made a puddle look deep.
Will has devoted his life to bachelorhood with as much zeal as he has devoted to fine-tuning his knowledge of fashion, fast cars and inane game shows. He has never worked a day in his life, preferring to live off the royalties of his father’s one-hit wonder – a cheesy Christmas tune his dad wrote decades before and spent the remainder of his life trying to forget. In a moment of true male reasoning, Will realizes the best way to get laid is to pick off the vulnerable members of the flock: single mothers. And where best to meet them than in a support group.
Will invents a two-year-old son and joins Single Parents Alone Together (SPAT), a small association primarily made up of wronged females. At a group picnic, Will’s life collides with that of an awkward 12-year-old boy (played by Nicholas Hoult), who is ruthlessly bullied at school. (Perhaps not entirely surprising considering his wardrobe centers around a wooly cardigan with rainbow and cloud motifs on the back).
Marcus’s main problem in life appears to be his too-old-to-still-be-a-hippie single-mother, the terminally teary-eyed Fiona (Toni Collette) – well, that and the fact that he has an unfortunate habit of breaking out into Carpenters tunes in class; never a good survival strategy. Will finds meaning in life by imparting his own extensive knowledge of popular culture on a very impressionable 12-year-old boy. While this sounds like a story that might collapse under its own sugarcoated weight, the plot has a much darker undertone that provides a welcome three-dimensionality.
“About a Boy” is solid entertainment and provides insight into the breadth of Grant’s abilities – he plays Will with appropriate superficiality, yet overlays a sad emptiness that complicates the character. This isn’t a film that requires intense cerebral function, but who needs that on these balmy summer evenings? And, hey, watching it will take up less than four units of time.