About a Boy

Grant keeps it British, tiresome and predictable
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When the rights to the film High Fidelity were surrendered to the Americans, that was a rabbit punch to national pride, but a relief to anybody who saw the movie of Fever Pitch.

Nick Hornby's novel of vinyl-sniffing and male inadequacy was transplanted from London to Chicago, had the talents of John Cusack and Stephen Frears lavished upon it, and only Hornby purists went home dissatisfied.

About a Boy looks as if it should please even these detractors. Hugh Grant is cast in the lead role, and the film stays in Britain under the aegis of Chris and Paul Weitz, the latter responsible for American Pie.

Somebody made a compromise too far. Perhaps the Weitz brothers treated Hornby's book with too much deference and felt disinclined to introduce their own engaging low-brow wit. Perhaps that Hugh Grant schtick – blinking into the middle distance and wobbling his mouth about – has become tiresome. Perhaps the book's shortcomings have been exposed by transposition. Whatever: About a Boy is another so-so British rom-com with north London locations and an under-developed script.

Grant plays Will Freeman, a financially flush, emotionally constipated layabout who receives a large dose of psychological laxative in the shape of Daniel (Nicholas Hoult), a victimised schoolboy with odd eyebrows and an odd mother (Toni Collette).

Having decided that masquerading as a single father would be a smart way to pick up women, Will engages Daniel as an element of his disguise, in return for some tutoring in how not to be the school spanner. The object of the former exercise is Rachel Weisz (shot rather unflatteringly by the cinematographer, Remi Adefarasin).

Daniel, in a predictable reversal of the Socratic model, proves the agency of Will's moral reformation.

Aside from a few strong scenes of social embarrassment (a sequence in which Grant endures a rendition of Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly strikes a genuinely fatal note) the film is disabled by its general lack of credibility. The novelty Christmas song to which Grant's character owes his comfortable income sounds like nothing that would ever get air time, never mind be a money-spinner.

Daniel's inner-city London comprehensive is an implausibly white environment in which the bad girls dress and talk like Marmalade Atkins, and the bad boys throw jelly beans at their victims (a concession to the Americans, I suspect, as is the substitution of "mad" for "angry"). Most unconvincing, however, is the film's finale, in which the entire school jeers Daniel as if he's a boxer suspected of throwing a fight, and the teachers simply stand there doing nothing. Would Stephen Frears have misjudged this so badly? Is Jack Black funnier than Hugh Grant? Should British films work harder to get their scripts right? No, yes, yes.