Wonder Boys review by Matt Fuerst


The joys of capitalism. Alas, after years of schooling, I was set free onto the world and was expected to make my mark. Pay my bills, buy the car, buy the house, do the commuting thing. This is the normal routine for the majority of us, as we dwindle away our youth and best years stuck for 8+ hours a day behind a terminal or sitting in on productivity meetings analyzing the newest methods in improving the productivity of our productivity meetings. There are those renegades amongst us that break free from this cycle, and live a different lifestyle. A fashion photographer, a male gigolo, an unemployed computer programmer moping and playing XBox. A writer.

I don't know about you, but I find the profession of writing for a living to have a mysterious, almost sexy lure to it. I can easily envision the process, waking up at whatever time your body feels ready, immediately put on your writing clothes (which may be trashy or nice depending on your tastes) and lock yourself in a room as inspiration flows from your heart to your fingertips. It's the nerdy job equivalent to being Captain America riding a chopper across the country. In Wonder Boys, we follow Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) as a professor at a small, liberal Pennsylvania US University. In Grady's high level writers class, he has James Leer (Tobey Maguire) as his most talented student, along with Hannah Green (Katie Holmes) whom he rents out a room too. Grady is sleeping with his bosses wife, Sara (Frances McDormand) who also is the Chancellor of the University. Wonder Boys happens to take place during the weekend of Wordfest, the annual event for the school where book publishers and authors converge onto the campus for meet and greet activities. In for the event is editor Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.) who really could care less about the event, he just wants a peek at Grady's 5-years-in-the-making follow up to his original book, The Arsonists Daughter.

Before we emerge further into the storyline and the characters, it's important to note the mindset a viewer should get themselves in for this type of movie. I would say Wonder Boys in its tone really stands on its own, the best I could describe it would be a dark, comedic film noir. All the characters have flaws, which they neither actively expose nor hide. They simply exist and are integral parts of the story. An impulse from a character can lead to ramifications of another and in the end, all the characters are intertwined. Quite a few elements are at play in the actual content of the storyline, all done with various levels of comedic interaction. Family pets get killed, cars get stolen, grown men drive around town in ridiculous pink fuzzy bathrobes, famous artifacts are stolen all the while serious matters of life and happiness are contemplated. While it all sounds and plays out in a ridiculous manner, the charm of Wonder Boys is the reality in which the film is set in.

The film setting of snowy Pennsylvanian town is filmed beautifully. While the actual content won't make you want to make book a flight to the land of the Omish, it very accurately reflects the area and spirit of the movie. We see Grady step out onto the front porch of his suburban home on a dark, dingy, rainy morning, light up a joint, and the composition is perfect. The tone of the film and the tone of the character mesh together perfectly. Michael Douglas has never played a finer role for me, his take as a depressed college professor was absolutely on the mark. Additionally, this is the finest work that both Katie Holmes and Tobey Maguire have committed to celluloid. McDormand isn't given much to work with in her role, but does an adequate job as well as Downey, Jr.

The DVD of the film has some extras, but leaves the viewer without the commentary track they are likely to be hoping for. Instead we are presented with a very nice 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer of the film, some cast and crew interviews (Michael Douglas, Francis McDormand, Tobey Maguire and Director Curtis Hanson), a location map of the area, a look at the music of Wonder Boys with discussion from Curtis Hanson and the video of Bob Dylan's "Things Have Changed". Wonder Boys didn't do too well in the box office, and Mr. Hanson has yet to contribute a commentary track, so I guess hoping for one for Wonder Boys was stretching my hope a little thin.

As we watch this set of confused people try to sort through the issues in their lives, we come to realize that maybe the lifestyle of the writer isn't necessarily for us. Never trust a movie reviewer that is afraid to write.

Trivia Tidbit: When viewing the film on DVD, you will notice first a black screen coming up declaring the film has been edited since it's theatrical release. In one scene James Leer shows off his morbid ability to recount famous Hollywood suicides, recounting Alan Ladd's demise via an alcohol and pill mixture as a suicide. The Ladd family opinion of Alan' departure of life in a different manner, and, well, you see the results. Nix Ladd from the flick.

9 out of 10 Jackasses
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