Wonder Boys
dir Curtis Hanson scr Steve Kloves
with Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr, Katie Holmes, Rip Torn, Richard Knox, Jane Adams, Michael Cavadias, Richard Thomas, Alan Tudyk, Philip Bosco
release US 23.Feb.00; UK 3.Nov.00
Paramount-BBC 00/US 1h41 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Boy's life. The adventure takes another twist for James, Grady and Terry (Maguire, Douglas and Downey).
This could have been yet another movie about finding what's truly important in life--and in many ways it is. But it's raised to a much higher level by fine performances, eccentric characters, inventive direction and most of all an offbeat, surprising script. Grady Tripp (Douglas) is a one-hit-wonder novelist who now teaches at a Pittsburgh university while trying to write that dreaded second opus. His latest wife has just left him, his wacky editor (Downey) is on his back, and his mistress (McDormand) has just found out she's pregnant ... and not by her husband (Thomas), who's Grady's boss. Throw a couple of students into the mix: a cute young thing (Holmes) who just wants to help (!) and a highly talented young writer (Maguire) who may not be who he says--or thinks--he is. Grady is in for a lot of soul-searching this weekend!

Douglas is superb, playing his age for once and finding rhythms and humour in the most unexpected places. Grady's odyssey is engaging on several levels, and the surrounding characters bring the film to a startling, raw life that makes it terrific fun as it rattles through the story, piling wacky farce upon awkward embarrassment, and all the while maintaining the plot's serious subtext. McDormand, especially, shines in her role, adding depth with the most minute, telling detail. Downey steals all of his scenes as well, and Maguire gives the film a terrific focal point--a complicated, difficult character we begin to figure out long before the truth dawns on Grady. After all the unhinged antics--both in Kloves' script and Hanson's direction--the ending may be a bit abrupt and simplistic. But it's still a thoroughly entertaining, quirky comedy with the rare power to leave a warm smile your face.

[15--themes, language] 29.Dec.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall