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WONDER BOYS

SYNOPSIS:
Prof Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) once wrote a great, award winning novel; but now, at 50 odd, he is having a mid life crisis thrust upon him as his wife leaves him, his mistress, Sara Gaskell [Chancellor of the University] (Frances McDormand) tells him she's pregnant, and his brightest writing student, James Leer (Tobey Macguire) goes off the rails. Meanwhile, his eccentric editor, Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey jnr) is in town for the annual Wordfest and is pressing Tripp for the manuscript of his next book - which Tripp has managed not to finish for years.

"Four outstanding actors (and scriptwriter Steve Kloves) help Curtis Hanson bring off a literary adaptation which could easily have been a turkey. In essence, it's the story of a middle aged man coming of age - in the sense of realising what he has to do to overcome his crisis as a writer and as a man. In that respect, the film is familiar American movie territory. But its characters are complicated enough and interesting enough to give us a rattling good ride, and the filmmakers create a world that is real and also a bit different to most of the settings we are used to in US films. It's a wintry Pittsburgh, there are no glamour shots (although the campus of Carnegie-Mellon University looks rich) and the ambiance is rumpled - as is Michael Douglas' badly shaven, unravelling, ageing, pot smoking Grady Tripp. Full of probing close ups and finely edited scenes, Wonder Boys is a bitter sweet film full of the flavours of the human condition. There is the black humour of creative careers in crisis, the promise of youthful new talent in bloom, the pain of crumbled relationships in middle age - the smell of decay rescued by an aerosol of hope to freshen the air as Tripp's despairing moment is turned around by an accident. I won't go into the details or it'll spoil the ending, but the redemption for the central characters is delivered with a great sense of irony - and humour. Well crafted, brilliantly performed, superbly shot, Wonder Boys is a quietly wry and entertainingly engaging film for mature palates."
Andrew L. Urban

"Everyone has a problem in Wonder Boys, an exquisitely written and directed story about dreams, expectations and reality. Curtis Hanson's intelligent treatment of this character driven tale entices us bit by bit, with deft subtlety. We are never told more than we need to know, and as characters and events reveal themselves, we are seduced by the ironic humour and honest true-to-life approach. In fact, it's the subtlety, coupled with sensational performances from Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jnr and Frances McDormand, that makes this indeed a very fine vintage wine for the connoisseur. Douglas discards his vanity with a shrug and inhabits the scruffy has-been writer with the ease of slipping into a pair of comfy worn-out slippers, while Maguire's ability to hone in on a quietly peculiar character is shown to perfection. Downey's outrageous, scene stealing larrikin is outright brilliant; McDormand grounds the characters with her understated sincerity. The characters are as complex as life itself, and the humour stems from the course of events as they happen naturally and unforced. And just when you think things couldn't get any worse that's when things happen. Isn't that Murphy's law? This is a film that makes us feel as well as think. 'There's a story behind everything' we are told, but whether or not it is interesting is in the eye of the beholder. It's up for grabs. Take the night club scene, when a totally fictional account of the life of 'Vernon' is fabricated. And the pay off is delicious. But there's a love of humanity in the writing, and the way all characters are portrayed, is with poignancy and a respect for the human condition. The transvestite scene begins with a laugh, but ends in pathos. The music is laid back, the setting terminal winter. Living up to expectations is never easy whether you're a wonder boy of yesterday or tomorrow. There are wonderful moments to spare in Wonder Boys it may make you look at life a little differently and choose to re-evaluate your dream."
Louise Keller

"At last, a Michael Douglas movie without a love interest half his age who's in awe of his sexual mastery. He acts his age in Wonder Boys and gives his best performance ever as a fifty-ish scribe with a severe case of writing himself into a corner. This is not a "Michael Douglas movie" for many good reasons including the way in which Grady's relationship with starstruck student Hannah (Katie Holmes), who rents a room in his house, is played contrary to what we'd traditionally expect and grudgingly accept. Dressed in a ratty pink bathrobe and fond of a joint, Grady Tripp is the pivot but he's surrounded by engaging characters also confronting moments of truth and revelation in their lives. This is a movie to listen to as much as watch; writer Steve Kloves' adaptation of Michael Chabon's novel strikes a neat balance between the humorous and the poignant as Tripp and the rest of these slightly lost souls stumble through things as best they can. Robert Downey Jr, whose performances only seem to get better the more off-screen trouble he gets into, is a delight as the agent with a cocky exterior; Tobey Maguire confirms his status as the moment's rising star with his elusive charm perfectly suited to his role of potential new wonder boy and the superb Rip Torn, with only a handful of lines, makes his usual telling impression as the kind of successful writer Grady might have been without such a fondness for dope and indecision. Wonder Boys packs plenty of incident into the long weekend it covers and could easily have settled for straight-up campus comedy. That it keeps the focus firmly on character rather than caricature makes it memorable."
Richard Kuipers

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

See Andrew L. Urban's interview with
CURTIS HANSON

WONDER BOYS (M)
(US)

CAST: Michael Douglas, Tobey Macguire, Robert Downey jnr, Katie Holmes

DIRECTOR: Curtis hanson

PRODUCER: Scott Rudin

SCRIPT: Steve Kloves (novel by Michael Chabon)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dante Spinotti

EDITOR: Dede Allen

MUSIC: Christopher Young

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jeannine Opperwall

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: REP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 3, 2000







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