Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Premise: Adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel about a college English professor who takes a promising young man under his wing while dealing with his own writer’s block and marital infidelity.
What Works: Wonder Boys is a film with a lot of big stars, or actors who have become Hollywood stars since the film’s release, but the material demands good performances from its actors and they deliver. Michael Douglas gives a great performance as a man struggling with a midlife crisis; he is full of angst but rather than whine about it, Douglas and the screenplay show how this man gets himself into trouble through his inability to deal with life’s problems. Tobey Maguire is also good as a burgeoning writer with serious social deficiencies. The various plotlines of Wonder Boys are smartly tied together and the troubles and idiosyncrasies of the two men complement one another and each learns from the other over the course of the story. Sound is used very effectively in Wonder Boys. This is a quiet film; there is very little music and the actors do not yell and scream at each other. Instead, the entire film has an understated quality about it and director Curtis Hanson makes that work by lingering on the moments and images that matter. Despite dealing with some serious themes, Wonder Boys also manages to be very funny in a dark and ironic way and the humor adds some contrast to the story and lifts the tone so that its more dramatic moments stand out.
What Doesn’t: Some of the departmental gossip has been seen before in other films either in higher education or in office settings. Not much of that material is very unique to Wonder Boys, although the characters are so well drawn that the film makes up for it.
DVD extras: Interviews, location map, music video.
Bottom Line: Wonder Boys is a fine film about an intellectual struggling with his own powerlessness and it manages to use a backdrop of deception and absurd humor to give insight into academia.
Episode: #201 (August 24, 2008)