If one can think of just a few movies worthy of critical praise yet neglected by the majority of audiences, one should think of a little Michael Douglas/Tobey Maguire film called Wonder Boys, a 2000 release about a one-time author who's life is going to hell.
Let's lay it out plainly. The professor is drunk or high most of the time, hasn't written anything since his critically acclaimed novel several years ago (actually, he has, but it is going on past page 2611 with no sign of completion), his wife has left him, his mistress, the wife of the English Department's head, his boss, is pregnant with his baby, his student that is living in his house wants more than just writing advice from him, and another of his students, the most depressed yet also the most gifted, has shot his boss's dog. So, to put it plainly, he's basically killed his boss's dog and gotten his wife pregnant, and also has to complete a book to make his editor happy, who left his firm deciding that he could rely on the sales of this professor's novel to boost his career.
If one were to look at Wonder Boys from a very direct viewpoint, which is the way that I view most films, being of simple mind, the story seems quite random. Yes, all of the plot points are connected by some means or another, but the very fact that they are happening all at the same time seem a little coincidental, but, of course, this is a two-hour movie and stuff (everything) has to happen within that time period. Am I criticizing the surface appearance of randomness? Not at all. I am praising it. The way this movie keeps on throwing out more storylines is great, and keeps me interested the whole way through. Just when you think Douglas' life can't get any worse, some new development happens.
Wonder Boys is almost like a slapstick film treated seriously and dramatically, and one that manages to pull it off. Come on, look at all of the storylines that are going on; everything is just asking for bad situations to show up, and in fact some of Wonder Boys funniest moments happen when there is no dialogue at all (Maguire laughing out loud in the middle of a seminar, and then silence). Best of all, though, for all of the comedy that hits home in this movie, there is a lot of depth and a lot of drama. Sure, Douglas might be exaggerated a little bit, but it makes for better entertainment.
What I am trying to get to is that Wonder Boys is a movie about lines and actors delivering those lines. This movie has some great lines throughout, and pretty much all of the dialogue serves a purpose other than to carry the story along; the dialogue is really meant to entertain. This is one damn well written script. Furthermore, the acting talent in this film is top notch (yet even being released in theaters twice didn't get people to come... of course, I should talk, since I didn't see this movie until I decided to shell out ten bucks for one of those hotel pay-per-view services). Michael Douglas does what he does every time, deliver a great performance. Tobey Maguire continues to show that he is formidable (he's from The Cider House Rules and will be Peter Parker in the upcoming Spiderman). Katie Holmes, through this movie and The Gift, is proving that cheap teenage storylines a la "Dawson's Creek" isn't the only thing she can do (unfortunately, her character is not given as much screen time as she deserves, and her character needs). Also, Frances McDermot, of Almost Famous and Fargo, has a small role.
This movie is different from mainstream movies, yet it is a film that everyone can enjoy. We get to see Douglas's life get worse by the moment, yet we have a feeling that it will all work out in the end. A blend of good characters and great dialogue makes Wonder Boys a very entertaining film.
My only complaints are small. What exactly happens to Maguire surrounding the dead dog incident? Why does Douglas let the 'jacket' get away? How come the movie never fully looks into Katie Holmes' obvious attempts to get more from Douglas?
All questions should be answered by the end of a movie, and Wonder Boys did leave me asking at times. However, despite those few little flaws, this is one of the better movies of the year. Does it have deeper meaning? Probably, but I haven't looked into it. I really don't care. I thoroughly enjoyed Wonder Boys from beginning to end.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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