Volume 93, Issue 79

Wednesday, March 1, 2000


Wonder Boys a subtle wonder

Reindeer Games playfully follows the rules

Afterglow worth the long wait

Wonder Boys a subtle wonder

Photo by Frank Connor
IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD... WHEN CATHERINE ZETA-JONES IS CARRYING YOUR BABY. Romantic wonder boy Michael Douglas brings his good fortune to the silver screen with the new film, Wonder Boys.

By Christina Vardanis
Gazette Staff

In today's entourage of stylish, fast-paced, yuppie-centred films, director Curtis Hanson's latest movie, Wonder Boys, is beautifully out of place.

Set in the suburbs of dreary Philadelphia, the film doesn't try to wow with breathtaking scenery, shock with surprising plot twists or market the next Hollywood trend. Rather, it distinguishes itself, quite ironically, by simply telling a story – and a damn fine one at that.

Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp, a college professor and an author who struck gold with his first novel. All the accompanying prestige aside, Grady is in a bit of a funk. After achieving critical success with his first novel, he experiences difficulty completing the second. While most authors refer to this obstacle as writer's block, Grady's problem takes the form of a literary laxative. The novel, seven years in the making and reaching War and Peace-like proportions, has no end in sight.

Add to this the pressures of a fleeing wife, a pregnant mistress, a pushy editor and two smitten and slightly freakish students and it's evident Grady's funk has the makings of a full-fledged depression.

Confronted with an onslaught of situational nightmares, Grady doesn't run to an over-paid, trendy psychologist or take his frustrations out in the gym - instead, he retreats to his car, removes a generous bag of pot from the glove compartment and practices his own kind of therapy. It's here the film's beauty begins to unfold.

This is an honest look at one man's search for direction. Although Grady is in his 50s with an established career, the theme defies any barriers of age. The immediate crisis of feeling lost is no longer the sole property of mid-lifers. Because it makes multiple appearances before the candles on the birthday cake actually reach the halfway mark, the plot speaks to the majority of viewers.

With Grady's will to live moving at a snail's pace, it's the supporting cast who keep the story moving and light up the screen.

Amidst recognized names and exuberant characters, the real scene stealer is Tobey Maguire as James - a quiet, introverted student who aspires to reach the same literary level as Grady, his self-appointed mentor. He writes stories about suicide, carries a pistol and creates a personal history from pure fiction - not exactly a picture perfect protagonist, but in Maguire's understated portrayal, he creates sympathy, honesty and a mirror in which Grady can truly see himself.

Hanson has done his best to keep this film void of even a hint of glamour. Stylistically, every element of the movie contributes to Grady's abused psyche. Douglas looks absolutely defeated throughout the film, wearing multiple overcoats, peeking out from behind owlish glasses and walking like he has an elephant on his back. Hanson has personified his mood of choice - depression - in one feeble looking, washed up character. And yet, amid all the gloom and doom, he still manages to create an element of hope.

The result is a story which rings true for anyone who has felt the least bit alone. This isn't a saccharine Hollywood tale - it's a story of real life.

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