Wonder Boys

on February 23, 2000 by Mike Kerrigan
   For his first movie since "LA Confidential," Curtis Hanson has chosen an engaging tale about a college professor who is having trouble living up to the promise of his first hit novel. Not that he's having difficulty getting words on the page--his problem is he can't stop, or at least find an ending, after way more than 1,000 pages. Plus, his editor is coming to town, his wife has just left him and he's also got the college chancellor pregnant.
   This could easily be a character for which you feel nothing but contempt. But, as superbly acted by Michael Douglas, Grady Tripp is a charming rascal. His irresponsibility and even his drug habits are more than balanced by his compassion and honesty.
   Douglas gives one of the best performances of his career. His matinee idol good looks are buried beneath shaggy locks, days-old beard and rumpled clothing, including a hideous pink bathrobe. But he creates a wonderfully multi-dimensional eccentric, full of flaws but also many admirable qualities.
   And Douglas gets fine support from a scrupulously chosen cast. Tobey Maguire ("The Cider House Rules") plays the borderline James Leer with a deft touch. And Frances McDormand, the heroine of "Fargo", is winning as the pregnant (again!), and married, chancellor.
   Hanson shot the movie in Pittsburgh in winter and the location becomes a character in its own right. The film looks as authentic as his "Confidential", and that is no mean feat. It can't have been a lot of fun in the snow and the sleet and the cold. But it was worth it: "Wonder Boys" is an intelligent movie about real people. It has serious points to make but makes then in a witty and engaging way. What more could you ask? Starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand and Katie Holmes. Directed by Curtis Hanson. Written by Steve Kloves. Produced by Scott Rudin and Curtis Hanson. A Paramount release. Comedy/Drama. Rated R for language and drug content. Running time: 110 min
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