(director: Chris and Paul Weitz; screenwriters: Nick Hornby (novel)/Peter Hedges; cinematographer: Remi Adefarasin; editor: Nick Moore; music: Damon Gough; cast: Hugh Grant (Will Freeman), Toni Collette (Fiona), Rachel Weisz (Rachel), Isabel Brook (Angie), Sharon Small (Christine), Victoria Smurfit (Suzie), Nicholas Hoult (Marcus), Nat Gastiain Tena (Ellie), Augustus Prew ( Ali); Runtime: 100; Universal; 2002-UK / USA)


“If the film has anything going for it, it’s Nicholas Hoult’s marvelous performance as the young boy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A formulaic sitcom tale about an immature and cynical but likable London cad on the dating prowl, Will (Grant). He learns how to grow-up after forming an odd relationship with a 12-year-old boy who is a social misfit and a dork, Marcus (Hoult). The film is based on Nick Hornby’s best-selling novel. Hugh Grant plays the familiar light comedy role he often chooses, that of the disarming romantic charmer. He takes this rather shallow romantic comedy story with its obvious message that ‘No man is an island’ — that everyone needs companionship and love — and makes it at least peppy. American Pie directors Paul and Chris Weitz make this into a pop culture movie of a clash between conformists and weirdo nonconformists. The codirectors have sympathy with the individualists to a point, but in the end cave in to the necessities of eating Big Macs, wearing trendy sneakers, listening to popular music, and the urgency to fit in by compromising.

Will is a 38-year-old bachelor who is self-absorbed, almost friendless, unreliable, unable to sustain longtime relationships, and is an unabashed idler. He has never worked and lives quite comfortably off his inheritance, living off the royalties of the one hit Christmas song his dad wrote in 1958 called “Santa’s Super Sleigh.”

Will thinks it is easy to score single moms by pretending to have a toddler. He manufactures a tale that his wife deserted him when he attends a meeting of SPAT (Single Parents – Alone Together), where he tells his appealing sob story to the ladies present. There he meets single mom Suzie (Smurfit), but gets thrown together with her best friend’s son Marcus at a SPAT picnic and later meets Suzie’s friend Fiona (Collette) when they bring Marcus home. She has attempted suicide and they call an ambulance for the neurotic hippie, who is always depressed and needs the hospital’s emergency room service to save her. Marcus starts visiting Will for adult male companionship, as he’s unhappy at home because his mom is always weeping and also at school because the bullies are always picking on him. There’s no attraction between Marcus’ recovering mother and Will, as he’s still interested in shagging Suzie. But the only thing that develops to his astonishment is a special relationship between him and Marcus, as Will finds that he has real emotions for the vulnerable kid. Will spends some of his inheritance money on making Marcus dress more cool and buys him a CD player and a rap CD, all in the hopes the kid can fit into society.

Since one good turn deserves another — Marcus pretends to be Will’s son when he meets the single mom Will’s really attracted to, the sultry Rachel (Weitz). Why he needed the kid to pose as his son never seemed clear to me, except it’s pointed out that Will can’t help being a compulsive liar. From here on, the story moves wearily and pointlessly to its predictable mainstream happy conclusion — everyone sort of gets what they need when they reach out to others. Marcus faces his school tormentors by bravely singing in the auditorium in front of them his mom’s favorite song “Killing Me Softly,” a song that the schoolchildren ridicule. Will in the meantime moves into a healthy relationship with sweet single mom Rachel and her nasty son. There’s even hope for Fiona, as Will introduces her to a charity worker she should be compatible with.

If the film has anything going for it, it’s Nicholas Hoult’s marvelous performance as the young boy. He alone seems genuine and believable, in a film about relationships that looks as phony as Monopoly money.

REVIEWED ON 5/29/2002 GRADE: C   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”