6 February 2003 | keefy-d
Not many people have heard of this film. It's not what the masses want, they yearn for Men In Black II, Legally Blonde, Die Another Day and so on. This minor gem is strange, unconventional, rich and moving. It is a classically written character study with unexpected comic twists and turns from every angle. You feel warmer for having watched this movie, and it is a shame that films like these only occur once or twice a year.
Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is a middle-aged professor of English, and is writing his second novel, `The Wonder Boys'. However, this character is not a stereotypical teacher but a fantastically original creation emphasized by Douglas' winning performance. He smokes weed and lives with a student of his (Katie Holmes), he is in the midst of his third divorce and is in love with his married boss, Sara Gaskell (Frances McDormand), and that second novel is forever incomplete, and has been for seven years. One of his pupils is James Leer, played to perfection by Tobey Maguire, who writes amazingly obtuse stories and is obsessed with the death of film stars. James and Grady become partners in crime when they shoot Sara's blind dog and steal the coat Marilyn Monroe was married in. From here on in we are absorbed into the life of Grady and those around him, from his publisher terry Crabtree (Downey jr) to his writer rival, Q. we see lives slowly fall apart, relationships blossom, a novel disappear into the wind and a black dude who refuses to be called Vernon Hardapple, all in one weekend.
Wonder Boys never disappoints. It's dry humour and bizarre imagination never stops for a second, and we are glued with a grin on our faces. Hardly realistic, the audience can still feel for the characters as their lives spiral into a comic frenzy. Grady and his off-beat world crumbling around him as he searches for happiness; Terry, the flamboyant homosexual who puts on a brave face, believing in others as he searches for a comeback novel (which he will not get from Grady); James, the loner who needs to release the genius within himself. These are the wonder boys. Frances McDormand and Katie Holmes gladly take a back seat in the story as this film refuses to be weighed down by sap.
The acting is flawless, with at least two superb supporting roles. Robert Downey jr sparkles in his greatest role since Chaplin, but it is Tobey Maguire who makes us feel he has always been that awkward, deadpan student that is James Leer. For those who have seen Pleasantville and The Cider House Rules will recognise Maguire for the talant he is (it almost makes one feel he sold out when taking the Spider-Man role), and here he has been sadly overlooked for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Douglas is in fine form as he always is in these strange and demanding roles, the last one being Falling Down. He can play a suicidal maniac and a stoned teacher and both roles will seem tailor made. The direction is impeccable as Hanson allows the characters to shine and the story flow, and it is almost unbelievable that this man directed the gritty, deadly serious L.A. Confidential. He packs Kloves screenplay with comic beauty and I sincerely hope he continues to direct these understated movies.
The big money-makers over the past few years have been either remakes, sequels or by-the-number churned out garbage and all these have one objective: to earn copious amounts of cash. Many of these film are successful in this aim but fail to capture one's imagination as Wonder Boys does so well. It is a shame to see the public throw there money at `Rocky and Bullwinkle' when it really should go to those who deserve it, those who still care about the art of motion picture. Anyone that will sit down to watch this will agree that it is a treasure to behold. A hidden treasure