Main cast: Michael Douglas (Grady Tripp), Tobey Maguire (James Leer), Frances McDormand (Sara Gaskell), Katie Holmes (Hannah Green), and Robert Downey Jr (Terry Crabtree)
Director: Curtis Hanson
English professor Grady Tripp is having a lousy day. His wife dumped him and his girlfriend, the very married Sara (who is the chancellor married to the Dean of Grady’s workplace), announces that she is pregnant with his child. Then his editor Terry Crabtree arrives, supposedly to attend the annual Wordfest, but both of them know he is here for Grady’s long overdue follow-up to his successful debut The Arsonist’s Daughter.
Grady, however, is stuck at page 200. Then he has all this black-out “episodes”. Sara’s dog hates him. His student Hannah makes it known not-too-subtly that she is available for… er, “talks” (she rents a room at his house).
Then someone is trying to steal his car. Morbid writing prodigy James Leer sees him as a role model; he shoots dead Sara’s dog and steals the woman’s fur coat (once worn by Marilyn Monroe).
Talk about a lousy day.
This adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel is acerbically witty yet very heartwarming at the same time. It presents a somewhat idealistic but rather accurate of the American academia, but then again, who cares? The characters are what the counts. Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp as a lovable, confused old coot who grows up reluctantly to realize that he loves Sara but he may be probably too late for her. James’s presence forces him to be father figure, and soon he warms into the whole role, all the while grouching like a loveable teddy bear.
Frances McDormand plays her underwritten role with dazzling charm. A practical woman who tells her lover, “I won’t wait forever”, she radiates warm likeability a million Gwyneth Paltrows could never achieve. It is so easy to see why Grady loves her. The movie’s one flaw is never telling me why she loves him, but no matter. The scene where Grady finally opens up his feelings… *sigh*
Who would’ve thought Tobey Maguire’s blandness can be adorable? His James Leer is the geek of all geeks, talented but confused, self absorbed but lonely. He constantly makes up stories about his past, but in the end, he is just a very lonely person who sees the author of his favorite book as an inspiration. He soon realized that Grady is just human.
Mr Downey Jr’s acting is always a joy – manic, funny, and always hysterical. His bisexual Terry has a semi-serious relationship with James, and why not? Terry is the only man that can make James laugh. In that one scene when James laugh, the whole screen lights up. It feels so right at that moment then.
Wonder Boys is quirky, warm fun that has me laughing and sighing mistily. The ending dips into muzak, I admit, but it’s forgiven, really. Grady, James, Peter, Sara – it is so wonderful knowing you. When the movie ended I felt reluctant to leave the theater. It’s as if I’ll be walking out on old friends. But you know what? I’ll be back to visit.