30 Day Film Challenge: Day Three

Posted on March 26, 2011

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A Film You Watch To Feel Good:

Wonder Boys was a clever, quirky and off beat comedy made in 2000 that remained largely under the radar until Bob Dylan’s song ‘Things Have Changed’ won the Best Song Award at the Oscars in 2001.

What happened after that? I don’t know. I don’t think it necessarily exploded onto the scene (not too many song winners do) but I certainly paid attention not only because of the song being pure class but because I’ve always liked Michael Douglas and the added bonus of Robert Downey Jr, Tobey Maguire (pre-Spiderman), and Francis McDormand made for a fantastic ensemble cast. Pair all of these up with LA Confidential director Curtis Hanson and you’ve got pretty good potential.

Wonder Boys (originally a novel by Michael Chabon) takes place over one weekend in a sleepy part of Pittsburgh during the annual ‘Word Fest’ – basically a nationwide Literature festival full of budding student writers including James Leer and Hannah Green (Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes), novel kingpins, the enigmatically named ‘Q’ (Rip Torn) and jaded, under the influence college professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) who had a bestseller seven years previous but has been trying to write the follow up ever since.

Michael Douglas gives one of the best performances of his career, in my opinion. Robert Downey Jr’s comic timing is excellent, Tobey Maguire is suitably deadpan as morbid student James Leer who has an uncanny knowledge of celebrity suicides and about whom Grady utters the immortal line “Just once, I’d like to know if the little bastard is telling the truth.”

It’s a film about writers but it’s not really about writing at all. It’s a story that corrects itself along the way, just like a writer does with a novel. If something’s not working, you dump it, you reinvent it, change it or just simply start again. Be it a person, an idea, a project, whatever.

This is what Grady Tripp eventually learns in Wonder Boys. Sometimes you have to start again, in order to get to where you’re going. It’s where the uplifting aspect of the film comes from. While it may, at points be hilariously funny, it all leads up to that pivotal moment at the end – the leap of faith if you will, but I’m not going to give the details away.

It’s funny, it’s got a great plot, it flows oh-so-well, it’s got interesting characters. It always, ALWAYS makes me feel like sitting down and writing some of my own work when I’ve finished watching it. And I always turn to it when I’ve had a shit day or things are getting on top of me and it always makes me feel better.

Firmly established in my Top Ten.

If you haven’t seen it, watch it.