One of 2002's most pleasant surprises, "About A Boy" is a fine effort from directors Paul and Chris Weitz, the directors of "American Pie", who have seemingly matured quite a bit for this effort. Based on the Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity") novel, the picture stars Hugh Grant as Will Freeman, a do-nothing charmer who lives off the royalties of his father's one hit song.
Will, who describes life as his own little "island" ("I am the star of the Will show, it is not an ensemble drama."), hasn't had a relationship that's lasted past a couple of months, which is brought to light by friends who, to Will's horror, asks him to be the godfather of their child. In an attempt to pick up women, Will decides that single mothers are a good potential dating pool - making up an imaginary kid, he finds that things are successful at first.
On the first date with the parental group's moderator, she brings along the son, Marcus (a wonderful Nicholas Hoult) of one of the other group members (Toni Colette), who suffers from emotional problems. After he accompanies him to the hospital, Marcus decides that Will might actually make a decent father figure and boyfriend for his mother. After shadowing Will for a week, he comes to the conclusion that there isn't any kid and that, unless Will hangs out with him, he'll tell his mother's group that he's only pretending to be a father to gain access to their meetings.
Yes, we've seen this movie before, but not done nearly as well. Grant's character is similar to the other character's that he's played, but the writing offers this character a considerable amount of depth and detail and Grant works with it superbly. It's his best performance and although the fact that there's a lot of voice-over from Grant as the character would likely sink the film with lesser writing, these lines are often some of the film's best. Colette and Rachel Weisz (as another woman that Will falls for later in the film) offer fine support, while Nicholas Hoult's first performance is terrific.
There's other positives to be found. The film's second half, which gets more dramatic and emotional, does so without becoming sappy or melodramatic, which it could have easily have done. All of the apparent British-ness of the novel has also thankfully been retained, as it brings a nice edge and wit. Overall, this is simply more substancial than most comedies, as it does an expert job blending some hilarious moments and well-written comedy with some emotional and dramatic scenes. The well-defined, memorable characters only make the film more engaging. One of last year's finest - it's too bad that it was largely overshadowed by "Star Wars: Episode II", which came out the same week.
VIDEO: "About a Boy" is presented by Universal Home Video in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Given the distinctly non-visual past of the two directors, it's kind of surprising that they chose the 2.35:1 format here, but they and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin ("Band Of Brothers") do make this picture look awfully nice. Universal's transfer is excellent, but there are a few minor little concerns scattered throughout the presentation. Sharpness and detail are very nice, with only a few minor instances of softness apparent throughout.
The only noticable fault with the presentation is that a few minor instances of edge enhancement pop up every so often. While this is hardly that much of an issue, it does keep the presentation from looking its best. On a positive note, no compression artifacts or print flaws are noticed.
The film's color palette is fairly subdued, but not so much so as to affect the tone of the film, as some warmer colors occasionally appear. Black level is solid throughout, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is about as restrained as one would expect. Aside from the pleasant score, the surrounds really don't offer much in the way of anything, even ambience during the outdoor scenes. Audio quality, however, is perfectly fine, as dialogue remained crisp and clear and the music remained crisp and bright.
EXTRAS: The best supplement included is a commentary from directors Paul and Chris Weitz, who provide a track that's a very nice balance between sharply comedic stories about what happened on the set to some technical details about the production. The two are able to continue the dialogue throughout most of the picture and manage to add enough humor about the events of the production (and some directed at their own abilities as filmmakers) that the track remains very entertaining.
The remainder of the supplements are okay, but rather ordinary. There's a 11-minute "making of" that's better than these things usually are, as it gives a good idea of how the novel was adapted, the atmosphere on set and how Hugh Grant doesn't usually work well with children. 14 minutes worth of deleted scenes are offered with optional commentary from the directors, who do a fine job of explaining the reasons why the scenes were cut from the picture.
Also included are two Badly Drawn Boy music videos, the complete lyrics for the "Santa's Super Sleigh" song in the movie, an "English-to-English" dictionary featurette, trailers for "Notting Hill", "Meet the Parents", "About A Boy", "Family Man", "Erin Brockovich, "A Beautiful Mind" and "Johnny English", as well as production notes and bios.
Final Thoughts: "About a Boy" is a marvelous film that is one of the more enjoyable 2002 films that I've seen. Grant's performance is superb, while although the storyline is somewhat predictable at times, the fantastic characters, great dialogue and fantastic blend of both the comedy and drama makes for a film that moves briskly and remains highly entertaining throughout. Universal's DVD presents the film with solid audio/video quality and a few supplements. Highly recommended.