WONDER BOYS / (2000) ****
Starring: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes, Robert Downey Jr., Rip Torn, and Richard Thomas Directed by Curtis Hanson. Written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by Michael Chabon. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated R (for strong drug use and for language).
I have always dreamed of becoming a professional writer for a living. Curtis Hanson's new comic drama, "Wonder Boys," is as accurate and enriching to my opinions and hopes as any movie I have seen. This is a wonderful, inspiring motion picture--one of the years best. It is a movie that enlightens our culture and moves us passionately, while at the same time provides the audience with laughter and moral aspects. This is a great movie to start out the new year.
The film stars the extraordinary Michael Douglas as a college professor named Grady Tripp, who is around fifty years old. He has written an award winning novel, "Arsonist's Daughter," seven years ago. Since, however, his follow up is drifting and unfocused, wondering over 2,600 single spaced pages in length. Although he does not believe in it, everyone thinks he has writer's block.
There is an assortment of characters and events brilliantly portrayed within the film's setup, all surrounding Grady. His third wife recently left him, due to her loneliness. He is having an affair with the University's chancellor, Sara Gasket (Frances McDormand), who has become pregnant after several implied encounters and happens to be the wife of his boss, the chairman of the English department, Walter (Richard Thomas). A foreign, loony man, Vernon (Richard Knox), is furious over something to do with Tripp's automobile. His bisexual and antsy editor, Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.), appearing with the company of a transvestite, desiring to take a look at Grady's long overdue writing piece, but uses the towns writer's conference as an ulterior motive. Also present, a high held writer named Q (Rip Torn), who raises the stress for Tripp, and two students of his, Hannah (Katie Holmes), who rents a room out of his house, and may even be willing to sleep with Grady, and his most brilliant author James Leer (Tobey Maguire), who bonds with him as the movie progresses.
A lot occurs in "Wonder Boys," and the plot is very labyrinthine, although it never becomes confused and always keeps its cool. The characters are perfectly defined and cast. Their intentions and motives are clear and developed with shape and gradual effectiveness. Curtis Hanson pays close attention to each separate character, giving them dimensional qualities, intelligence and depth.
Complications arise when several key events take place. There is a Monroe artifact stolen from the chancellor's closet and her pet dog ends up shot to death when James defends Grady who is being attacked. These occurrences lead to bondings between Grady Tripp and James, Heather and just about every other character in the film.
Heather says in one scene that Tripp's novel would be much better if he would lay off the marijuana usage. She is correct. Grady often lives under the influence, and this is just one of the ideas the film looks at, along with family dysfunction, adultery, abortions, theft, abuse, severe loss, and even violence. All these concepts apply to the morality of the movie.
The narrative through line enhances the story and characters thoroughly. Each scene propels the plot forward, either creating a new conflict or complicating a previous one. This film contains one of the most stolid structures I have seen all year. The conclusion of "Wonder Boys" is effectual and sums up everything in an apprehensive manor--and is of the same standards as its previous material. How rare is it to screen a movie when the finale is just as engaging as the overall story.
"Wonder Boys" contains dialogue that is decisive and smart. It has a wickedly witty mood, but is still beautifully written and portrayed. Improving the production is the moody atmosphere of a light thriller--and it still overlaps with comic travesty. Although the film is more conceptual than actual, and empowered with overtones rather than reflexive relief, the laughs are still frequent, the intrigue is constant and the statement is clear.
I also liked the film's visual style and cinematography. From the fitting soundtrack to the story's presentation, the atmospheres is absolutely mesmerizing from start to finish. Especially wonderful are the sequences in which it snows in the evening. The way the glistening white flakes drift gently down onto the ground from a peaceful and dark sky captures the characters emotional aspects is just stunning. Even the costuming, scenery, and tone are skillful.
Michael Douglas, known for characters more active than Grady Tripp, is utterly marvelous here. James writes in a page of his work that Grady, who was once capable for inspiring a world, is now unable to inspire himself. This painfully true scene in captured flawlessly by his Oscar worthy performance. As he, and the other earth shattering performers, entice the audience, we feel much emotion for these characters. So much that we do not realize it until the closing credits role past.
Brought to you by Paramount Pictures.
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