This is a smart, Brit-lite movie, albeit the directors are Americans. Hugh Grant plays the self-absorbed, slightly caddish bachelor to perfection. He’s carefree with life and careless with the emotions of his friends and his string of girlfriends -“ more shallow and a little less likeable than the usual Grant persona. We all know that in a movie like this things must change, and they do. In this case, because Will lights on the idea of posing as a single dad to pull girls. He joins a single parents group and through this rather queasy kind of pretence he meets a 12-year old boy, Marcus (nicely underplayed by Nicholas Hoult), who susses his ruse and uses Will in turn to alleviate his loneliness.
There are enough comic moments and a good script as well, although the humour is often understated and the mood slightly downbeat. Toni Collette, again, does slightly nutty as Fiona, Marcus’s manic-depressive mum, and Rachel Weisz is terrific and delectable as the woman Will wants to impress, by lying of course.
The movie is based on the novel by Brit brat, Nick Hornby, who is developing quite a line in filmable books (High Fidelity, Fever Pitch). There are a couple of credibility issues. First, how is it the Grant character lives extremely comfortably off his father’s royalties for a second-rate Christmas song and, second, how likely is the relationship between a smug wealthy bachelor and a lonely geeky kid? That one can get past this is a tribute to the performances and the reasonably restrained hands of directors, Paul and Chris Weitz, who made the first American Pie movie.
The script is fairly faithful to the book, though the time of the action has been moved forward from the early 1990s, which means the Nirvana references, which in the book were cross-referenced with Fiona’s suicide attempts, have been removed. With this, perhaps, goes most of the gloom. The soundtrack, by Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy), is perfectly good but much smoother pop music. The climactic scene is a bit contrived and the ending a bit too easily wrapped up but the film is enjoyable and engaging in a reasonably intelligent way while not saying as much as it could have.