Hugh Grant as Will Freeman
Toni Collette as Fiona
Rachel Weisz as Rachel
Isabel Brook as Angie
Sharon Small as Christine
Victoria Smurfit as Suzie
Nicholas Hoult as Marcus
Hugh Grant has annoyed me in the past. I didn't like Four Weddings and a Funeral and I detested Notting Hill. His bumbling, haughty character seemed transparent and extremely irritating to me (although most American and British audiences embraced it). Recently, Grant has sworn off this obnoxious character to play edgier, more fleshed-out characters that don't bump things over and mumble as it happens. Small Time Crooks and Bridget Jones' Diary have used this method and both were good films. About a Boy uses this method (along with a solid adaptation of the dated Nick Hornby book) to make a fresh and funny romantic comedy.
Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) is a ladies' man. He is sly, funny, and has a great-looking flat. He hates children and is satisfied with his bachelor status. He also doesn't do a thing other than get his haircut, eat, and watch British game shows. He is living off the royalties of a song his father wrote (a gag that works beautifully in the film). Will comes up with the idea of picking up single mother because most of them are beautiful and they are always lonely. He invents a child and heads to single parents support groups. On the other side of town, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) is coping with his mother's desperate suicide attempts. Marcus is also the loser of his school (even his friends refuse to hang out with him). Everyone ridicules Marcus because he bursts out in old songs at the wrong time. Marcus meets Will and takes an instant liking to him. Will doesn't see it, but Marcus helps him grow up through a series of hilarious outings.
What Worked & Didn't Work:
Hugh Grant is stellar as Will; he has a nuanced charm that works extremely well in the film. He has a nice new haircut and his comic timing (along with the Weitz brothers direction) is perfect. He has an upbeat chemistry with Hoult and his eventual love interest Rachel Weisz. Nicholas Hoult is hilarious as outcast Marcus; he has the right blend of a desperate face and cute little-boy zest to make his character believable. Toni Collette plays Marcus' troubled mother and she is perfect for the weepy role. Rachel Weisz doesn't do very much in the film; this is Hugh Grant's film.
The movie is based on a book by Nick Hornby (writer of High Fidelity). The book takes place around 1991 and the movie updates to modern times (a Nirvana subplot is updated to Mystikal's Shake Ya Ass). The movie stays in Britain (unlike High Fidelity which was transported to Chicago) and it's a smart choice. About a Boy stays close to the book which is a great thing because the book translates perfectly to the screen. Using a dual voice over (Grant and Hoult), the Weitz brothers spin a funny romantic comedy. Most romantic comedies have not been very funny lately (see Serendipity). The movie zips along at a quaint 100 minutes and I never really felt the length.
I'd recommend About a Boy to anyone (especially fans of High Fidelity); it's a consistently comical movie about growing up.