The hotly anticipated follow-up to his incisive and funny debut novel High Fidelity, Nick Hornby's About A Boy was dismissed for ladling sentiment onto essentially the same story: A single, pop-culture-obsessed hipster in his 30s, with no commitments and little ambition, gets yanked reluctantly into adulthood. But why complain when Hornby writes the character so vividly, with so many fresh insights into the male psyche and the cracked philosophies of terminal bachelorhood? In Chris and Paul Weitz's brisk, endearing adaptation, Hugh Grant plays an older, slightly oilier version of High Fidelity's John Cusack, an unemployed cad who has sealed himself off in a self-described "island paradise" of CDs, DVDs, cable television, and sleek gadgetry. Living well off the royalties from his father's Christmas novelty song, Grant divides his day into 30-minute "units of time," which he spends on activities such as watching game shows, getting his hair professionally mussed, and bedding young Swedish tourists. After dating a single mother, he believes he's stumbled onto the perfect formula: He's treated like a hero compared to the absent father, he gets to have passionate sex, and he doesn't have to be the one to break off the relationship before it gets too serious. But his scheme to create an imaginary son for a single parents' group backfires when he meets Nicholas Hoult, an adolescent misfit who clings to him as a backup to his suicidal mother (Toni Collette). Saddled with unwanted responsibility, Grant gives the poor kid lessons on how to be cool, the one subject on which he's an expert. Few scenarios are more cliched than the curmudgeonly father-figure who takes in the precocious imp—irritation in the first two acts, love in the third—but Hornby infuses it with warmth and honesty, not to mention his obvious gift for wry observation. Previously known for lowbrow comedies (American Pie, Down To Earth) that are alternately sweet and inept, the Weitz brothers were not an obvious choice for the material, which doesn't always lend itself to such a broad treatment. None of the gags are subtle, yet their populist instincts are nicely tempered by the earthy chemistry between the two leads and a soundtrack of original Badly Drawn Boy songs that comment on the action without intruding on it. Compared to High Fidelity, the book and the movie, About A Boy seems resolutely uncool, exactly the sort of earnest and formulaic nonsense that would make a Hornby hero retch. But part of growing up may be admitting that such familiar comforts can also be immensely satisfying.
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