Title: Wonder Boys
Country: USA, Germany, UK, Japan
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Curtis Hanson
Screenwriter: Steve Kloves
based on the novel of Michael Chabon
Music: Christopher Young
Cinematography: Dante Spinotti
Robert Downey Jr.
In commemoration of the late Curtis Hanson, who passed away in September at the age of 71, an all-around director, writer and producer, WONDER BOYS came after his career-pinnacle crime-noir L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997), and was dead on arrival in its domestic release after being bizarrely dumped into a languish February, yet, almost one-year later (after a not-so-successful re-release during the Oscar season), it was nominated for 3 Oscars and won Bob Dylan his only Oscar to date, for its pensive theme song THINGS HAVE CHANGED.
Who are the titular wonder boys? The obvious one is James Leer (Maguire), a young writer whose withdrawn temperament is yoked with his impromptu falsehoods, who remembers all the suicidal cases of Hollywood stars but his unpublished first novel is definitely a gem-in-the-can. Taking into account the plural form of “boys”, the other wonder boy must be referred to our protagonist, James’ middle-aged university professor Grady Tripp (Douglas), whose life has been squarely stuck in a pickle, his wife left him and he is in an extramarital affair with the university chancellor Sara Gaskell (McDormand), who just informs him that she is pregnant with his baby, so that’s the ultimatum. Also, he is unable to finish his second novel, a typical sophomore syndrome if the first one is too good to excel, plus his pan-sexual editor Terry Crabtree (Downey Jr.) arrives in Pittsburgh to check up on him about his stalling creativity progress.
A tentative bond builds between Grady and James during their madcap experience at Sara’s place one night, which involves a loaded cap gun, a jacket Marilyn Monroe once wore in her wedding day, a dead blind dog names Poe and a stolen car. Hanson’s film credibly captures a tangible veneer of intelligentsia’s ambiguity between sophistication and naïvety, often under the influence of booze or drugs, and the narrative is trenchantly driven by subtext rather than over-blunt dialogues, without being facilely condescending. WONDER BOYS is replete with dry humor too, and not always bank on the face value, the story may dredges up Grady’s scrape to the fore, but there is never a dull moment in his marijuana-addled, gimping journey before he can finally make a right choice in the right moment.
Michael Douglas gives an astonishingly engrossing impersonation of Prof. Tripp, certainly a high point in his résumé, carrying an air of bookishness, but substantially sympathetic in his man-child mode, makes a great couple with a comfortably relaxed McDormand. In the era before Marvel’s enrollment, it is so refreshing to watch the bromance pair of a puppy-eyed Maguire and a rejoinders-shooting Downey Jr. (who is a jolly scene-stealer), play lovey-dovey here, the placement of homosexual element (including a transvestite character played by real-life drag queen Cavadias) is subsidiary to the main plot, but is massively conducive to set an early mark of normalizing its existence in a mainstream product’s story-line, especially in such a nonchalant attitude. Last but not the least, WONDER BOYS’ eclectically reminiscent soundtrack is a slam-bang antidote catering to any nostalgia-stricken individual.