Directed by: Curtis Hanson | 111 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes, Robert Downey Jr., Rip Torn, Richard Knox, Jane Adams, Michael Cavadias, Richard Thomas, Alan Tudyk, Philip Bosco, George Grizzard, Kelly Bishop, Bill Velin, Charis Michelsen, Yusuf Gatewood, June Hildreth, Elisabeth Granli, Richard Hidlebird
Writing is a metaphor for life itself. Sometimes things go smoothly, but there are also times when you get stuck. Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) knows all about it. He is a dull smoke, has no choice between his wife and his mistress, and is a worthless mentor to James Leer, the most talented student in his writing class (Tobey Maguire). And then that novel that just doesn’t get finished… Publisher Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.) is also upset, because he will lose his job if Tripp does not come up with a bestseller soon. Fortunately, a borrowed car, an unexpected pregnancy and a dead dog make for a breakthrough.
Wonder Boys is a warm comedy with enthusiastic renditions of the entire cast. Notably Robert Downey Jr. appears as a flamboyant publisher to have comic talent. The actor spent more time in rehab or in jail in the late 1990s than on the set, but in Wonder Boys, he steals every scene in which he plays. And that while he was on probation during the recordings! Tobey Maguire and Michael Douglas counteract successful roles as single aspiring writer and failed teacher with writer’s block. Douglas reportedly wanted to play Grady Tripp’s character so badly that he settled for less pay. And it must be said, this is one of his most charming roles ever. The actor distances himself from his slick image by letting himself be portrayed mercilessly in a middle-class and has never before been so natural, sensitive and witty.
With “Wonder Boys”, director Curtis Hanson paints a nice portrait of the writing world and life on an American campus. He switches effortlessly from slapstick comedy to drama and shows an eye for people and relationships. His characters are without exception eccentric but credible and the dialogues are often hilarious. “You have a large trunk,” says Leer when Tripp offers him a lift. “You can store a tuba, a suitcase, a dead dog and a suit bag.” “Yes, they advertise with that too,” is the very dry comment of the professor. A soundtrack with beautiful retro rock by Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison (and an Oscar-winning song by Bob Dylan) serves as the musical accompaniment to the whole. “Wonder Boys” is a small film that flew under the radar at the time and therefore received less attention than it deserved. A pity, because it is well worth the sight.