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Movie Review

Wonder Boys

MPAA Rating: R for language and drug content

Reviewed by: Halyna Barannik

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Drama, Comedy
1 hr. 52 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Poster. Copyrighted. Michael Douglas in “Wonder Boys”
Featuring: Michael Douglas, Robert Downey Jr., Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes, Tobey Maguire
Director: Curtis Hanson
Producer: Curtis Hanson, Scott Rudin
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
“A weekend from Hell became the time of his life.”

This movie has been touted by secular critics as an artistic coup for Michael Douglas. Indeed, his performance is subtle and well-textured as he plays a college professor (Grady Tripp) who teaches creative writing and whose life is not going so well. Grady is having an affair with his chancellor (Frances McDormand), who is also the wife of his department chairman (Richard Thomas). She soon announces that she is pregnant. His own wife has left him, and Grady is unable to finish his second book, which is long in coming after his first successful publication. His publisher (Robert Downey Jr.) arrives in town demanding to see the manuscript, for his own professional success depends on it.

Scene from Wonder Boys

Compressed into a period of a few days, Grady has to face his own worth as a writer, as we learn that his unfinished manuscript is already well-over 1,000 pages long and he rightfully resists showing it to his anxious publisher. He also finds himself in a position as mentor and caretaker to one of his own students, James (Tobey Maguire) who is having personal problems—no apartment, no apparent family, and psychological problems. And when he learns that his lover is pregnant, he has to decide how or if he is going to make a commitment to her, whose husband seems to know nothing about the affair.

In the course of facing or solving these issues, Grady reaches into the phlegmatic resources of his soul for some strength. He reveals himself to be the proverbial professor who’s stuck in his little academic niche, where life is comfortable only because the problems have always been the same: female students enamored with him (whom he has to resist), an extramarital affair on campus, plenty of time to write and publish. His redeeming quality is that he realizes he is in trouble and that he has to do something, however inadequate. He has a spark of humanity as he tries to help his troubled student James with housing and James’ estranged parents. He has to deal with the pregnant lover and her irate husband, and his publisher is breathing down his neck after having arrived in town with a transvestite who dumps him. Grady’s quiet and safe world becomes a torture chamber with everything going wrong. There is some farcical humor when James shoots a dog that attacks Grady and then they put the dog in the trunk of a car which then gets stolen, and so forth.

Despite the funny moments, this is a movie that is ultimately empty and disappointing. There is implicit homosexuality, the remorseless adultery, and Grady’s addiction to marijuana. At the end, Grady may have demonstrated a touch of conscience and concern for those who are in his life, but the general outlook of the movie has a jaded world view. Nobody cares too much about anybody. And despite the fact that this role is a stretch for Michael Douglas and he does reflect the malaise that can beset a life in academia, the movie borders on forgettable. The plot is well-constructed, the acting is good. But from the Christian perspective, the characters are pitiful, bleak, even adolescent and the immorality reprobate. Not recommended.

Viewer Comments
A movie superior to “American Beauty,” with thematic similarities. “American Beauty” offers stereotypes of suburbia to suggest the disintegration of two families. “Wonder Boys” has a better balance of comedy to drama. It also reflects a more balanced view, I think, of humanity: the characters are fundamentally likable and fundamentally rootless. A Christian could say that this is because of their sin. Yet for all their flaws, the characters have moral impulses, particularly the intention of a professor to help one very troubled student while his own personal life falls apart. Finally, this is an R-rated movie; it may offend some viewers for its language, drug use, and portrayal of homosexuality. My Ratings: [2½/4½]
—Jack, age 37
Wow! I am at a loss for words. This film is a tribute to the written word, to the man who sits behind a typewriter and plunks away for the enjoyment of others. It is also a roaringly funny comedy full of surprise. Curtis Hanson, who previously directed “LA Confidential,” really shows himself here. His gentle touch with the actors really shines. Douglas pulls off his best work since Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.” Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes are excellent… You know, there’s really not enough good that I can say about this film. I am aware that there is some negative content, but I am going to shrug it off. The film has inspired me to write again… and if I can write anything as good as this, I will definitely be happy with myself. Go see this, and show the kids when it comes on TV. My Ratings: [2/5]
—Andrew Hager, age 19
My wife and I didn’t know what to expect when we picked this movie. We found it interesting, and well acted. But… it is by no means a “Must see.” The plot makes light of honesty and family values. My Ratings: [2/3]
—David DeCosmo, age 57
Movie Critics
Michael Douglas’s “carefully banked star power lends heft to this dubious character while subliminally shoring up his status as campus sex object. Illuminating a mid-life crisis that has hit Condition Red…
—Bob Campbell, Star-Ledger, New Jersey
…He’s impregnated the chancellor, whose husband is his boss. …He’s dealing with a transvestite picked up on the plane, and the romantic advances of an innocently sexy student who rents a room in his house and would gladly crawl into the side of his bed recently vacated by much-younger wife number three…
—Rob Blackwelder, Spliced Online
…Gallant and reckless, he’s the sort of fellow who flirts with a pretty, adoring student (Katie Holmes) and then demonstrates his high scruples by sleeping with a colleague’s wife instead. …
—Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
…frequent drug use, condoned homosexual and adulterous activity, and gutter language…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review