A coming of age film that follows a thirty something Gen-Xer and a pre-teen millennial.
If you’ve never liked a ‘Hugh Grant’ film, maybe this would change your mind.
Do you appreciate ‘self-aware’ individuals? I do, and to my delight the opening scene just gives me what I ordered (or at least what I didn’t think I wanted when I first viewed the film). We get a nicely paced story with tight dialogue laced with an example of how voice-overs (they usually don’t) can work. In broad brushstrokes the story could be broken down as: Rich guy gets stalked by a pre-teen and they form a friendship.
Aforementioned ‘rich guy’ is Will Freeman (Hugh Grant), who came by his money because his father wrote a popular song that yields boatloads of royalties. The cash influx is enough to afford him a lifestyle (complete with a sleek silver Audi Coupé) without needing to add another income stream (like a ‘day job’). His stalker however, couldn’t be more different, as Marcus Brewer (Nicholas Hoult) is a son of a single mum, Fiona (Toni Collette), who suffers from depression and earns just enough for the bare necessities.
I am happy to report that this isn’t a story of a toxic ‘Type A’ person despite the similarities Will’s life resembles (shallow relationships with women, driving a flashy car and zero effort in self-improvement) and instead it is more of two people (Will and Marcus) being open to find their place in the world. This journey means a mixture of heartbreak, wasted time, and even bad decisions. If you are the kind of person who is able to just let the story take you through its paces (and not be tempted to predict what would happen in the next scene or in the end), then you would be delighted not just in your first viewing but in future ones as well.
The inciting incident that eventually brings protagonist and antagonist together is when a single mother, Angie (Isabel Brook), breaks up with Will. This gives him his ‘eureka moment’ and leads him to the idea that those are the types of women that he should go for, just because its more likely that they would dump him in due time (plus he gets the adoration of being ‘the good guy’). One of those women, Suzie, ends up being a friend of Fiona. During a SPAT group picnic (SPAT – ‘Single Parents Alone Together’) Suzie takes Marcus along as Fiona wasn’t feeling well. How did Will end up with SPAT? A poster advertising a get together of single parents – his solution to finding single mothers quickly.
Unfortunately, things take a dark turn when Will and Suzie drop off Marcus as they discover that Fiona had attempted to end her life. As Suzie looks after Marcus for the night, Will decides that single mothers are now an option he’s going to forego. However, it doesn’t mean that he will not be pursued. Marcus gets his own ‘lightbulb moment’ when he realised that there needs to be one more person in the family and rings Will up. Since Marcus had been listening to Will share details about his life, excuses really aren’t working to shake this child off. Realising that he’d been given an opportunity, Will accepts. Of course Marcus does a bait-and-switch (maybe more just ‘bait’?) and mentions that his mother needs to come too. And so begins the tug-of-war with Will resisting and eventually a friendship blooms.
Will might be an introvert. It hadn’t occurred to me that was the case. Likely because it would be ten more years before TED would share to the public Susan Cain’s ground-breaking talk, and the belief wasn’t widespread that introversion and extroversion were more closer to a humour blueprint and personality than increasing metabolism or changing one’s hairstyle. The whole possibility that Will is an introvert makes the story even more cohesive (spending his ‘time units’ on his own).
It wasn’t until I saw ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘In Her Shoes’ that Toni Collette ended up on my radar when taking not of future films to see. Observing her performance during my rewatch is just a testament to her ability as an actor (contributes to a scene rather than be focused on shining a light to her performance). Also proof how much care has been taken to gather the cast and make sure they are are matched with the right characters.
Some highlights to give you an idea of the humour (subtle, wry, and hyperbolic) within:
Marcus musing on the amount of money Haley Joel Osment received in the films he had been in, then nixing the idea that he could follow in Osment’s footsteps upon realising that he (Marcus) is ‘crap at drama’.
Will not knowing what to do after being handed baby Imogen then later declaring the biggest reason it’s a bad idea for him to be her godfather.
The lesson that an adult should clear things with a child’s main caregiver (in this case Fiona) before building a friendship.
How to win over a 3-year-old: A trip to the zoo and letting them hang upside down.
Will attending his first SPAT meeting then getting a glimpse how bleak things are as a single parent and finding out how men could be jerks.
Though ‘Sense and Sensibility’ has already burrowed its way into my heart. I was not part of the viewing public who wished that I’d get a version Charles from ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. I prefer more practicality (in terms of personal development) than wistful longings. So this one fits right in. Depending on when I view it, I find that it fluctuates between a 6/10 to an 8/10.
As I no longer read reviews before watching a film (a bit of a ‘Catch-22’ I must admit), I’m delighted to find out that this one has been rated highly by Roger Ebert and seems to hold the answer of why I really haven’t warmed up to Hugh’s other performances: “Charming in the Grant stylebook refers to something he does as a conscious act, and what is remarkable here is that Grant is–well, likable. Yes, the cad has developed a heart.”
This film is currently tied with ‘The Rewrite’ in Hugh’s filmography as highly rated in my list. As with a lot of what makes me laugh, it has those ingredients: situational humour as well as subtle delivery with a dash of hyperbole. On the surface, the story plays like a Romantic Comedy (Rachel Weisz finally making her appearance during the start of Act 3). Yet somehow looking at the set-ups and payoffs, it points more towards a ‘buddy movie’.
A comment has been made that Will doesn’t have any baggage due to the absence of scenes with the dad (or whatever caused him to be emotionally distant). Thankfully, I am armed with information (like an overview of ‘Attachment Theory‘) that we only need to see how he’s acting to give us a clue that he has designed his life this way due to being. Though it’s likely that his dad passing away was a big catalyst of him ‘running’ when he starts to form an attachment towards another person (as evidenced by the montage of women he’s dated who are pretty pissed off that he’s ended things). A more similar comparison could be made with Kyle Benson. Kyle believed that he was unworthy of love based on how his past relationships fared. While Will never really utters those words (even via his inner thoughts), his initial surprise when Angie doesn’t berate him as his previous partners have done (and even considers him a ‘good guy’) is a good indication.
I know there are reviews that dismiss the film as close to second tier, where the aim is to get a 4/10 rather than aim for the best version of the story (as all Pixar – and now Disney too – films aim to be). So rather than ask you to commit to spinning (DVD or Blu-Ray) or streaming the entirety of the film, I’m going to get you to consider just setting your timer to 10 minutes. Hopefully, you would be as surprised and delighted like me when I saw the film for the first time all those years ago and before long you’re at the end credits crawl.