Friday, April 8, 2016

About a Boy

The Beyond the Cover Blogathon is an event devoted to films adapted from novels, hosted by Speakeasy and Now Voyaging. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.

About a Boy
seen online via YouTube

Okay, so you probably know by now that Nick Hornby is one of my absolute favorite authors. Why do I like him? His style of writing, for one thing: he has a really sharp sense of humor that shows through in his work, and even when he makes references to something British that I may not know or understand, I can usually figure it out. More than that, though, he has a strong understanding of people and relationships. The people in his stories may be in strange or funny situations, but the underlying emotional states that brought them to those places feel authentic, and relatable. 

I think it's great that he's getting big as a Hollywood screenwriter now. Brooklyn was an amazing movie. Unfortunately, I haven't seen Wild or An Education yet. He seems to be gravitating towards stories about young women, and that's cool. His screenplays have so far all been adaptations of other people's material, so they don't quite have his signature style, but knowing he wrote them still satisfies me.

As for adaptations of his own work: you know how I felt about High Fidelity. Missed Fever Pitch (though I'm curious as to how a non-fiction book about love of soccer gets translated into a fictional movie about love of baseball) and I don't even think A Long Way Down was released here in the US? I know it bombed in the UK. I liked the book, but a comedy movie about suicide was probably gonna be a tough sell to begin with. 

I bought the book About a Boy long after the movie came out. I had already seen the movie High Fidelity, though I wasn't crazy about it at first. I had bought the book out of curiosity years later and was completely turned around. It gave me a new appreciation of the movie, which I saw again and liked the second time, and that's when I started getting into his books. I bought Boy at a bookshop in Brooklyn. It was the movie-tie-in re-release, so it has Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult on the cover.

The plot in a nutshell: Grant's character, Will, is the son of a music writer who wrote a Christmas ditty years ago and now Will just lives off the royalties and doesn't do much of anything else. He pretends to be a single father to seduce single mothers, and that's how he meets Marcus, a tween kid who's a total square, and his mother Fiona, who suffers severely from depression. When Fiona tries to kill herself one day, Marcus aspires to hook Will up with his mom to get her to feel better, which leads to an odd-couple-type relationship between Marcus and Will where each kinda learns from the other, though not in an Afterschool Special kind of way because this is a Nick Hornby story.

While the movie version was okay, I think too much of an effort was made to try and preserve Hornby's narrative style by having voice-over narration from both Grant and Hoult, and that bothered me. Both Will and Marcus narrate the book, through alternating chapters, and that was fine - in the book. In the film, the way they go back and forth felt like a tennis match, and there's a LOT of narration. It was distracting at first, and it took me awhile to adjust.

And then the ending was changed. In the book, there's a second-half subplot in which Marcus meets this teen rebel girl named Ellie and tries to, if not hook up with her exactly (because he's a square and knows nothing about girls), at least get her to notice him. Their relationship gets short shrift in the movie; she's barely a character at all, but this was an odd situation where screenwriters Peter Hedges and co-directors Chris & Paul Weitz didn't have much of a choice. 

See, in the book, Ellie's a big Nirvana fan, and Kurt Cobain's death is part of the story and factors heavily into what happens in the third act with Ellie and Marcus. So unless the film was gonna be a period piece, they had to write a new climax. I understand, but it still irked me a bit because the new version felt kinda dorky by comparison. (It also reminded me of the climax to Little Miss Sunshine, even though this movie predates that one.)

Other than that, though, the Weitz' adaptation was very faithful. Hoult as Marcus was a little more deadpan than I expected, but I thought he definitely had Marcus' spirit. Toni Collette as Fiona was marvelous, as usual, though I wish she had a bigger part. As for Hugh Grant, well, I've never been a big fan of his, but I liked him here. He gets to be a cad and a layabout, with more of an edge than his usual rom-com roles. Boy is one where I'd recommend seeing the movie before reading the book, because as usual, there are changes, and if you read the book first, those changes are gonna affect how you see the movie.

Other movies adapted from Nick Hornby:
High Fidelity

Five books I read after seeing the movie


  1. I am also a fan of Hornby's sense of humour. We come from different places in the entertainment that influences us, but I haven't found that that means I don't "get" him - although, I probably don't "get" him totally. I like that he seems to care for his characters and that those characters come from all walks of life.

  2. Yeah, the cultural differences are ultimately minor and they usually don't get in my way. I don't know if that's what you meant, but...

  3. I quite like this film. Like you said, Toni Collette is FAB in this role, but when isn't she terrific. I also really like Hugh Grant as this character – he seems to be unafraid to make himself appear really selfish and unlikable at times.

    I'm a bit ashamed to say this, but I have never read Nick Hornby's writing. However, you make such an impassioned case, that I think I'll have to check him out of the library ASAP.

    Great review!

    1. Start with HIGH FIDELITY. it's his best known work and the movie is fairly faithful to the book.

  4. Good choice because Hornby is interesting, someone still working, working in both books and movies, and with such a distinctive style and voice that's been tough to adapt. Haven't seen this since it came out, but yeah I'd agree with you that it got the spirit.
    btw, I saw A Long Way Down, but haven't read the book, so I can't compare but the movie could have used more dark humour, as it was it felt afraid to go there, end ended up cutesy which just didn't fit. Thanks so much for joining the blogathon!

    1. That's not terribly surprising. The book had a great deal of dark humor and it would've been tough to translate to film no matter who did it.

  5. I like Hornby too (absolutely loved his adaptation of Brooklyn) and enjoyed the book About a Boy, but don't really remember the film all that well. There was also a UK film of Fever Pitch with Colin Firth, which was really good - I haven't seen the US remake though. I never saw A Long Way Down either, but have been meaning to catch up with it.

  6. A UK version of FEVER PITCH? Maybe I'll look for it.

  7. I heard a lot about Hornby, but never read anything about him. I watched the film An Education, and I thought it was very good!
    Two narrators in a movie? That is something odd! I think I never saw anything like that, and surely it`ll be weird.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  8. It wasn't odd so much as it was a pain to have to listen to and follow. I kind of understand why they did it but a stronger screenplay wouldn't have needed two narrators.

  9. I love About A Boy but I have yet to read any of Nick Hornby's works. I will have to change that. Thank you for joining the blogathon!

  10. Like I said, HIGH FIDELITY is as good a place as any to start.


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