Adapted from the very funny Michael Chabon novel, Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys is a marvel of a film, a sharp and wise valentine to academia and the literary life.
Dir. Curtis Hanson (2000)
Wonder Boys is one of those films—truly rewatchable, and enjoyable every time—that settles into some small place in your heart. A valentine to the life of the mind and the pleasures of words for literary types and bookish people, Wonder Boys follows Michael Douglas as Professor Grady Tripp, a college professor who isn't stuck, exactly, on his second novel, the follow-up to his star-making The Arsonist's Daughter (hee!)...he's just 4000 pages into it.
Wonderfully adapted from the Michael Chabon novel* (which, should be noted, was the anxiety-ridden follow-up to a blazing debut, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh) by screenwriter Steve Kloves, director Hanson has an admirably light touch with the film. Over the course of a "Wordfest" February weekend, Tripp gets mixed up with his agent (a wonderful Robert Downey Jr., in one of his first major roles post-his addict years), his talented weirdo of a student (Tobey Maguire) and his sharp student-with-a-crush (Katie Holmes), and his mistress, the school chancellor (Frances McDormand).
There are funny and farcial moments in Wonder Boys, some involving a dog, and there's also a wise and warm core of sadness, asking the question: What comes after success? How do you define yourself? My favorite scene, however, is when Tripp, his agent, and Maguire are in a bar, looking at the patrons and making up stories about their lives. They're riffing on the possibilities of people, what could happen, and it's the very moment where you know that these characters are readers and writers with rich lives. Movies often get writers wrong, or wallow in alcoholic Oscar-bait biopic misery, and the love of the literary life that fuels Wonder Boys is something marvelous.
*Tripp was based on Chabon's one-time teacher, Chuck Kinder, although it's fair to say that Chabon's own anxieties powered the novel. (And these days, Junot Diaz's twelve years between debut and Pulitzer Prize-winning follow up also comes to mind.)
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