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copyright ©1999-2001

flick pick | Wonder Boys 2000
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Written by: Michael Chabon (novel), Steve Kloves
Starring: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., Katie Holmes
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:
darkly comic, witty
The verdict: ½/ 5 the rating system explained

Plot synopsis Seven years ago Grady Tripp wrote The Great American Novel, an instant classic that became a staple of college English curricula everywhere. Two thousand pages into the follow-up and he’s still nowhere near completing his second novel – and there are a whole lot of people, from his colleagues to his students at the Pittsburgh university where he teaches, who are beginning to wonder whether he’s been writing anything at all. On the same day that his wife – just another in a long string of pretty, young wives for now middle-aged Grady -- packs up and moves out on him, his married lover, the chancellor of the university, tells him that she’s pregnant with his child. She’s crazy about Grady, just about ready to give up on her marriage to a fussy stiff of an academic (who, as chairman of the English Department, also happens to be Grady’s boss), but she’s frustrated with Grady’s indecisiveness, his preference for acting like a pothead adolescent rather than a responsible adult. To add further stress to Grady’s weekend, his editor Terry’s flying into town, with the hopes of taking a look at a nearly completed manuscript. Terry’s desperate for Grady’s new book to be not only finished, but brilliant, because Terry’s once-promising career is floundering. Meanwhile, Grady finds himself bonding with a very talented and very strange student from his creative writing class, James Leer.

Review Wonder Boys is full of odd, wonderful, laugh-out-loud-funny moments, but it’s not what I think of when I normally think of a comedy, despite the fact that it’s been described as such. For one thing, there’s so much that’s pathetic about the "wonder boys" of the film’s title – from the central character Grady, who’s been lucky enough to experience genius once, with his very first book, but seems doomed never to find inspiration again, to his editor Terry, who hides his desperation over his career behind superficial flings and forced carefree partying, to the mercurial James Leer, whose imagination has him spinning so many fabulous stories that it’s hard to tell where his real life and his fiction divide. And besides, the humor relies far more on irony than it does on the sort of zingy one-liners that generally characterize the comedy genre. All of which is to say Wonder Boys is a hard movie to describe, since it doesn’t neatly fit into any conventional category of story. What makes it so enjoyable to watch, however, are Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire as the two main characters. It’s great to see both of them playing somewhat against type – Douglas ditching his usual arrogance and vanity to do the harried, schlumpy, very middle-aged Grady; Maguire, as terrifically, understatedly expressive as always, letting himself get a little dark as James Leer. It’s their excellent performances that make Wonder Boys such a compelling character study.  — reviewed by Y. Sun 

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