Saturday, May 8, 2010

Wonder Boys

Wonder Boys is a clever, dark, and at times perverse comedy directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) that stars Michael Douglas as Grady Tripp, Tobey Maguire as James Leer, Robert Downey Jr. as Terry Crabtree, and Frances McDormand as Sara Gaskell, and is based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Chabon.

Grady Tripp is a down on his luck novelist and writing professor at Carnegie Mellon, who is dealing with his third wife leaving him while attempting to complete a novel that he's spent the last seven years working on. In one whirlwind weekend his agent, Terry Crabtree (Downey Jr) arrives in town from New York to pressure him about the book, his mistress, Sara Gaskell (McDormand) reveals she is pregnant with his child, and he becomes an unwilling mentor to his student James Leer (Maguire), who is an anti-social, maudlin, wonder kin, whose love of Tripp's novel The Arsonist's Daughter brought him to the university to be taught by Tripp.

Tripp, Leer, and Crabtree are joined by Sara Gaskell (McDormand) in what becomes a story of the trials and tribulations of life and the redemptive quality of love. The film is essentially a character piece in which the four main actors and a strong cast of supports, including Rip Torn, Katie Holmes, Jane Adams, and Richard Knox, draw the viewer into their lives and even provide a few life lessons we can take away from the film.

Beside these strong performances, and Hanson's skilled direction, the true highlight of the film is the soundtrack. Since the film is about wonder boys, Hanson turned to the ultimate wonder boy, Bob Dylan, who provided the Oscar winning song, Things Have Changed. The song, originally written for the film is the perfect theme for Grady Tripp, whose own struggles along the road of life mirror those in the song. Hanson would also select three other Dylan songs for the film, those being, Buckets of Rain from the album Blood On The Tracks, Shooting Star from the album Oh Mercy, and Not Dark Yet, from the album Time Out Of Mind. Hanson would also select many great songs from artists such as Van Morrison, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen.

Michael Douglas' performance in Wonder Boys stands as one of the best of his career, and on the whole is one of the better character pieces to be made in this decade. The film also appeals to a wide audience range, as many of us can identify with the feelings of youthful alienation and the crisis of faith when we find ourselves at the crossroads of life.

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