There are a handful of movies I watch at least once a year. I’ve seen each of them many times and enjoy each viewing. In many cases it’s like relaxing with a favorite drink. Wonder Boys is one of those movies. Curtis Hanson’s adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel about a one hit wonder novelist turned writing professor whose life is falling apart is very comfortable for me. That may say more about me than the movie, but I’ll try to fix that in the rest of this review.
I think you probably get more out of Wonder Boys if you’re a writer, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Michael Douglas who typically plays super-rich and powerful characters is strangely perfect as the disheveled Grady Tripp. It’s expected that he’s a good guy having lots of bad things happen to him but as the story unfolds, you realize every one of his problems is entirely of his own making.
Before the movie even starts his wife has left him. His editor is coming in from out of town to look at his second book that is a few years late. He’s having an affair with his boss’ wife. And his best student is either going to become a best selling writer or possibly kill himself. We learn all of these things are already happening and then things start to get worse for him.
It sounds depressing but it really isn’t. It helps that his editor is a bisexual hedonist played by Robert Downey Jr. and the moody student writer is played by Tobey Maguire. In fact, the cast in this movie is one of the best I can think of. Katie Holmes plays a student tenant of Grady’s who’d like nothing more than to sleep with him. (There’s a scene where she’s laying in bed reading his manuscript that’s probably far sexier to writers than it would be to other people.) Rip Torn has a bit part as a pompous best-selling writer. He’s sort of the anti-Grady. Frances McDormand is the woman Grady is having an affair with. She’s one of those actresses who never gets enough roles. She’s a character actress who tends to disappear into her character.
The humor throughout the movie is what makes the whole thing work. It would be a dark, depressing affair without it. Instead, it’s a movie full of hilarious moments amongst all of the chaos. Also, no review of this movie would be complete without a mention of the fantastic soundtrack that includes Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and John Lennon. On a rainy morning with nothing to do, some people like to put on The Big Lebowski (a fine movie in its own right). I put on Wonder Boys.
– Jack Cameron