Monday, February 1, 2010
Robert Downey, Jr. Ouevre #7 - Wonder Boys
Had to watch something to get the bad taste of In Dreams out of my eyes so I went with one of my all-time favorite films, Wonder Boys. Based on the Michael Chabon book (which I reviewed in October), it is about a writer/professor in Pittsburgh and one of his students.
The professor, Grady (Michael Douglas), published a critically acclaimed book, The Arsonist's Daughter, but has spent the seven years since trying to bring his second novel to completion. Now in excess of 2000 pages with no end in sight, Grady is overwhelmed and seeks solace in marijuana. On top of that, he is in love with the college's chancellor (Frances McDormand) despite both of them being married.
The student (Tobey Maguire), James, is a talented, despondent, strange lad with quite an imagination. Grady becomes an unlikely role model for the kid.
Having watched this movie several times in my lifetime, I tried to watch it this time with a very critical eye and I had a hard time coming up with much of which to be critical. There is a lack of consistency with the weather, especially in the final scenes. Drug use in the form of marijuana and pharmaceuticals is prevalent (along with language is why it is rated R) of which I'm never a fan.
The scene in the chancellor's bedroom with Grady and James is a little off (how does James get Marilyn Monroe's jacket from the closet and why is there so little blood when the dog is shot (how's that for a teaser?)?). And unlike other movies which I enjoy immensely, I don't feel the soundtrack adds anything. It's decent but doesn't stand out.
Other than those things, I like everything about the movie. It's well-acted. The dialogue is great. The characters are all flawed but likable. Terrific ending with all the loose ends tied up.
As for our hero, Downey plays Grady's editor Crabtree. He comes into town, supposedly for the school's annual literary celebration, but mostly to see how the book is doing. Downey is not well-regarded in the publishing community and is considered a washout. He makes his appearance early in the movie when Grady goes to pick him up at the airport. Crabtree arrives with a transvestite with whom he is very flirtatious until Crabtree sees James and becomes enamored with him.
Downey's character is quirky, funny, a tad on the conniving and despicable side. There's a lot of depth to him. He obviously could be a good writer (witness the bar scene) and despite being washed up, manages to hold onto a job. His sexual preferences aren't clear outside of variable. There's a lot to him that makes you wonder more about his past. The only reason I'm not giving Downey five stars for the role is because he's not a main character and is not on screen enough.
I just love this movie. I will be shocked if any other work Downey does approaches this.