Wonder Boys


Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Written by:Steven Kloves
Starring: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jnr, Rip Torn, Richard Knox
Released: August 3, 2000
Grade: A

Professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is an English Professor who’s in the process of writing a very lengthy novel.  His first, Arsonist’s Daughter, was a best-seller but it’s been seven years since its first publication and people are starting to question whether Grady still has what it takes as a writer.

It’s that time of year at the Pittsburgh university, where he teaches, for the annual literary festival.  Tripp’s editor, Terry Crabtree (Downey Jnr), has used it as an excuse to pop into town to quiz Tripp regarding his new novel.  Each year, the festival opens with a party at the home of the Chancellor, Sara Gaskell (McDormand) and her husband, Walter (Richard Thomas), whose head of the English Department.

Grady’s having an affair with Sara and tells her that his wife has just separated from him.  She fires back with the news that she’s pregnant, he is the father, and she’s not yet prepared to leave Walter.

Also at the function are Hannah Green (Holmes) and James Leer (Maguire), two of Tripp’s brightest English students.  Hannah’s always had a soft crush on Tripp and lives in the same campus building as the Professor.  James has always been mysterious in class and never interacts much with other students - he’s a loner.

As chance would have it, Tripp converses with James whilst smoking a joint on the Gaskell’s front lawn and a series of events is set off that would become a turning point in the lives off those around them.

The cast are all super and it’s hard to single out any performance.  Michael Douglas is dazzling and it’s great to see him in different role from his “norm”.  Frances McDormand is always a delight on screen and the moments she shares with Douglas are a tribute to two of the finest in the business - both Oscar winners.

Tobey Maguire (The Ice Storm, Pleasantville & The Cider House Rules) is the best young actor in Hollywood right now and shows his versatility tackling the role of James.  I was surprised as to how well he can play “stoned”.  Even Robert Downey Jnr is a joy to watch.  He actually missed the premiere of the film in the United States as he was in jail serving time for drug use.

Wonder Boys is one of the best movies of the year.  It’s the little things that make all the difference and director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) has produced a very sharp film.  The way he captures the rain and snow (which are prominent all through the film) is beautiful.  His ability to show university life in a realistic fashion is also a tribute.

This is a film not to be missed.  As Tripp says, “Nobody teaches a writer anything - you tell them what you know, you tell them to find their voice and stay with it”.  Great words, great story, great film.