Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for language, adult situations
Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Hugh Grant has found a formula that works and he’s sticking with it: rumpled, befuddled, sexy curmudgeon who just want to be loved, punctuated by the occasional cynical cad (Daniel Cleaver in “Bridget Jones’ Diary”) to push the envelope. Now meet the fresh incarnation - a hip, attractively stylish and emotionally stunted lout who deep, deep (way deep) down just needs to be loved.
Grant’s trademark acid comedy is the great equalizer. As Will, a rich and irresponsible 38-year old slacker, Grant is right at home. Will is the scion of wealth, amassed a la a one-hit wonder written by his father in 1958 and assuring Will of never having to work a day in his life. Will’s day-to-day existence consists of eating, sleeping, shopping, watching TV, and picking up available women for passionate sex and guilt-free breakups when the going gets serious.
Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) appears in Will’s life unexpectedly, tagging along on a picnic date Will has arranged with a sexy single mom who’s doing a favor for Marcus’ mom by keeping her kid for the afternoon. Marcus has problems of his own – at school (bullies), at home (severely depressed New Age mother), and with himself (unhappy and insecure). Cognizant of the fact that stability with his mother is a questionable affair, Marcus seeks out Will as potential father material, with hilarious results.
Would that it were all about the laughs. Billed as a comedy - something akin to Bridget-Jones-for-boys - the tale (based on Nick Hornby’s popular British novel of the same name) has sharp edges and a deep vein of sadness running through its narrative. Loneliness, acute vulnerability, and a loss of purpose all rear their ugly heads between funny bits regarding commitment, the mating game, and the mercurial state of adolescence. The writing is surprisingly refreshing, a perfect fit for a droll Englishman (who refers to Marcus and his mother as “Miss Granola Suicide and her spawn”).
Back to the that formula. The floppy hair is gone, but the self-effacing attitude and earnest delivery are vintage Grant. Hoult is slow to come around – annoyingly introverted at the start but ultimately all nerdy charm and childlike wisdom. Comparisons to Ms. Jones and her infamous journal are hard to ignore – witty voice-overs and the perils of thirty-something singletons the world over. The Weitz Brothers (“American Pie”) direct with a delightful sense of refined whimsy that colors the project with a rich patina of hope and goodwill.