Sunday, December 27, 2009

Film Decade List #6: Wonder Boys

Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, USA, 2000)

Wonder Boys is the type of picture that Hollywood studios have all but abandoned, an intelligent, somewhat offbeat film that appeals to people don't want to see special effects and a shitload of explosions. That the film's marketing was completely fucked up is an understatement as Paramount opened it up in the pre-Oscars dead season, and attempted to re-release it in a last ditch attempt to garner awards. Plus, it didn't find an audience of anybody but critics and myself, who saw it in a theatre with eight other people. It really was a shame because this may be the most underrated film of the decade, based on Michael Chabon's novel, with great performances. Michael Douglas gives a great performance as a shaggy, pot-addled professor/author stuck on a massive follow-up to his acclaimed first novel. The film centers around a weekend where Grady (Douglas) gets sucked into a series of events that strain his clandestine relationship with his boss's wife (Frances MacDormand) and get him involved with one of his talented yet troubled students (Tobey Maguire). The film makes intelligent and keen observations about the world of writers and addresses it audience with an expectation of intelligence, now almost absent in studio pictures. The plot isn't much more than a loose series tied together by the character's presence but it succeeds because everyone, from Douglas and Maguire, to bit parts, are so good. Hanson gives a workmanlike directing job, keeping things moving, never being flashy, and preserving a lot of Chabon's novel. That the humor has a level of sophistication probably means it won't appeal to everybody, but this film should have found a much bigger audience than it did.

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