Wonder Boys is a Michael Douglas acting tour de force, a movie based upon Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Chabon's novel of the same name. A wonderfully quirky movie, with lots of great acting and shots, it was probably one of my favorite recent viewings. Set in Pittsburgh, it tells the story of an aging lit professor with one hit novel under his belt and another one that just won't finish, and a bad couple of days he has, dealing with one of his "gifted" students - wonder boys both of them. Directed by Curtis Hanson, who did such a great job with LA Confidential, Wonder Boys was a lot of fun.
The story begins with a tired Grady Tripp narrating to the audience about his day, a rainy day in Pittsburgh. His young wife has left him and he is really feeling his age, especially because his agent (played with spot-on smarminess by Robert Downey Jr.) is coming to town for the upcoming "Wordfest", a literary conference his university (played by Carnegie-Mellon University) annually hosts. And he is going to want to know when Tripp's follow up novel to the smash hit "Arsonist's Daughter" will be finished, and Grady himself doesn't know the answer to that.
Also introduced in the beginning is Grady's star pupil, James Leer (Tobey Maguire), reading a dark short story about death and funerals, typical fare we are led to believe. The two become entangled in a web of bad karma, as things go from bad to worse.
Complicating matters is the Grady's beautiful border, Hannah Green (Katie Holmes, an amazingly fresh and innocent looking beauty). Hannah is interested in helping Grady get over his breakup, not knowing that he's already involved in an affair with the dean's wife, Sara Gaskell (the multi-faceted Frances McDormand, playing at a very low key).
Many serio-comic adventures ensue, as Grady tries to straighten out Leer, keep his agent's roving hands off of Leer, try to figure out who he loves, and also get his opus finished, which at this point is thousands of pages long. He also has a run-in with someone who is trying to steal his car, as well as putting up with the ego of the popular writer "Q", played with relish by Rip Torn.
But it all works out neatly in the end. He gets the dean's wife, they have a kid, Leer moves to New York to become a popular writer and we never do find out what happens to Hannah, the dog, or the coat. The last two you have to watch the movie to figure out:-)
All in all, I had fun while I was watching it, although when it ended I felt plot points were both unresolved and too neatly tied up. A couple of the major events in the movie were never satisfactorily played out, and some characters never really connected. But there were a couple of laugh out loud scenes and as well as some nice soliliquies.
I couldn't do a review of Wonder Boys without mentioning the soundtrack. Lots of great and atmospheric 70s and 80s music, but the best song was the brand new Dylan song, "Things Have Changed", which has a cool music video included on the DVD. In one of the extras, they talk about the songs and what they were looking for in their placement. Lots of fun there!
So at least rent this movie. You'll get some great acting, some funny scenes and some good music, even if, in the end, it is a little light and either too or not enough wrapped up.