About a Boy
dir. Chris & Paul Weitz
Opens Fri May 17 at various theaters.

When Bridget Jones's Diary came out a while back, I was among the tiny minority of female viewers who absolutely hated the film. It didn't impress me that Renée Ziggywiggy blew herself up like a balloon for the lead role in order to prove that you don't have to be perfect to win the perfect man (just so long as you snort yourself back to skinny in time for the Golden Globes). The only thing I did like about the movie was Hugh Grant's turn as an unselfconscious cad.

The cad is back in About a Boy, based on Nick Hornby's second best-selling novel, after High Fidelity. Directed by Paul and Chris Weitz (of American Pie infamy), this tale of male midlife angst centers around Will, an idler of hilarious proportions whose life is measured out in increments of time spent performing important tasks such as shopping for high-end electronic gadgets and gourmet snacks, and going to the hair salon. Living off a fortune earned and perpetuated by his wildly popular one-hit-wonder musician father, Will has no idea his life is meaningless until he hatches a plan to pick up sex-starved, commitment-phobic women at a single-parent support group. As a consequence he meets a 12-year-old boy whose depressed mother (Toni Collette) forces Will to provide guidance, except that the kid is far more mature than his begrudging father figure.

The problem with the film version of High Fidelity was that John Cusack played Hornby's protagonist as wishy-washy in his bastardness, an unhappy hangdog who just hadn't found himself. Grant's Will can't conceive that his life is unfulfilled, and whenever anyone tries to inform him of what's missing, he digs in his heels and fights to stay a bastard, making his inevitable transformation all the more authentic. To learn the skills of compassion and responsibility for the first time at age 38 means there's not much time left to rely on trial and error. There's an elegance to the Weitzes' direction, and the kid's aching awkwardness is masked by his remarkable unselfconsciousness, mirroring that of Will.