About A Boy

  “No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;”
John Donne (Devotions, 1624)

The way I see it, every man is an island.

But the great thing is, there’s never been a better time in history to be an island. Even fifty years ago, for instance, they didn’t have daytime TV, or videos, or CD’s or home espresso makers, or glossy magazines with questionnaires about how cool you were…

Sure I was an island, but I was a pretty cool island. I was Ibiza.

Most people know of John Donne the remarkable English poet, philosopher and preacher of the 17th century.  Few people know Will Freeman, but they know a few folks like him.  In the small 2002 film (which many people missed due to the fact that it debuted the same weekend as the Star Wars prequel, Attack of the Clones) Will “Free-man” (Hugh Grant) is the extremely shallow and self-absorbed swinging single in the movie About a Boy. He meets Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a twelve-year-old boy who is anything but shallow and the “un-coolest” kid in his school. As the title suggests this is the story of a boy, rather, about two “boys” and the effect they have on each other’s lives. Will teaches Marcus how to be a kid, and Marcus helps Will to finally grow up.

Will, the 38-year-old boy, is living off the substantial royalties of “Santa’s Super Sleigh,” a Christmas song his father wrote before he was born. He’s never had a job or a relationship for more than a few days.  Marcus, the other boy, is navigating a leftover-from-the-60’s hippie single mom, Fiona (Toni Collette), who battles depression.   The two meet when Will starts dating women from a single parents support group (He’s faking that he has a child so that he can pick up on single moms!), and Marcus is sent to spend the day with a single neighbor (Will’s date) and her child.  While the date ends badly (they kill a duck at the pond with Fiona’s loaf of homemade health bread that actually resembles a hockey puck, and they return to Marcus’ home to find Fiona having attempted suicide), Marcus and Will are in each other’s lives for the long haul. 

Marcus soon figures out Will’s selfish philosophy and lifestyle, and decides to change it.  Besides he and his mother can use some help. As he says to Will, “Two people aren’t enough; you need a back-up.”  Watching Marcus wear down Will is just one of the many humorous pleasures of the film.  Eventually, but kicking and screaming most of the way, Will sees that life without another is meaningless, and that “once you open your heart to one person, you open it to others.”   About a Boy is sweet, but also often bittersweet, for it deals with the human condition in a realistic way. Both comedy and drama come from the characters and their situations, for such is life.

Directed by Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz (American Pie), About a Boy is based on the book by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) with the screenplay by Peter Hedges (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) and the Weitz brothers.  Not all will be comfortable with some of their other work, but About a Boy should not be missed.  These are talented filmmakers. Paul Weitz in talking about his film concluded, “I think the heart of the film lies in the strong mix of comedy and emotion. It’s extremely funny, but tackles very profound themes about isolation, about family and about love.”  It was nominated this year for several awards including two Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by an Actor—Musical or Comedy.   

Why did critics like this movie?  Because it’s not sentimental, but rather gritty and true. As one critic stated, “People are jerks, but they still need each other. And through each other they can become more whole.” Why did we like it? Perhaps for some of the same reasons.  But it also made us imagine the church as a place where people, regardless of their baggage, are made more human, more whole, by coming together.  If our culture is yearning for connection in a sea of isolation, shouldn’t the church be known for its contagious community?  It needs to invite the world to a place where no person is an island, and where not even two are enough; you need back-up.  We have Christ and his body—the saints past and present through the ages, even John Donne. Now that’s back-up and a story worth telling!