Wonder Boys is a charming and likeable comedy-drama with an all-star cast that examines the pressures to replicate success after a killer hit and how we can find ourselves resting on our laurels in all aspects of our lives. It unfortunately panned at the box office (twice!) but from a critical point of view, it’s an absolute delight. It takes an irreverent and amused approach to the career of both a university lecturer and a writer and paints an exaggerated picture of what that world consists of (weed smoking, party attending, dog shooting etc) pulling it all together for a close, intimate story that leaves the audience feeling good, but not at the cost of cheapening the established drama.
Michael Douglas gives perhaps the performance of his lifetime in the lead role, with supporting actors Robert Downey Jr, Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes all giving stellar performances. Despite excessive character development for Douglas and Maguire’s characters, the supporting cast sometimes come off a little shallow. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Holmes’ character, Hannah, exists purely as a hurdle for Douglas to overcome and is presented as a little bit of a stereotypical, horny university student who fancies her lecturer for his brains. Similarly, many of the female roles here do seem designed to act as character development for their male counterparts. This is the only real critique of the film I have and, to be fair, it stems more from the source material, rather than this adaptation.
From a filmmaking point of view however, everything is perfectly executed. The pace moves along nicely and trims the fat of some of the less important scenes of the novel that have little purpose other than to show the lead character’s own lack of direction. The soundtrack is beautifully eclectic and uses the directors own favourite artist, Bob Dylan, to emphasise some of the film’s most emotionally charged moments, or in some cases, the calm directly after these moments. Finally, the cinematography is equally excellent. The cold winter setting allows for some beautiful shots in the snow that give the film an almost fantasy or folklore tale. As the antics of the characters get more outrageous and the stakes get higher and higher, the cinematography matches this and quick editing techniques are used throughout to give the film a really unique, art house style feel.
In review, I completely fell in love with ‘Wonder Boys.’ The acting from Michael Douglas is simply flawless. Both Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr are excellent in their respective roles and appropriately convey the emotions both outlandish and subtle that their characters are going through. The narrative is simply wonderful despite slightly side-lining most of the females, even relegating one to a completely unseen character! Nevertheless, it’s a true and honest tale of a person regaining direction in their life and putting aside their issues, excuses and procrastinations to truly prioritise what matters.