Film Review: WONDER BOYS, 2000

Tribute review for director Curtis Hanson who died today at the age of 71. 

wonder_boys_posterWONDER BOYS, 2000
Movie Reviews

Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire, Katie Holes, Rip Torn
Review by Jarred Thomas


English Professor, Grady Tripp, tries to deal with his wife leaving him, the arrival of his editor who has been waiting for his book for seven years, and the various problems that his friends and associates involve him in.


Struggling Professor Grady Tripp (Douglas) is writing his second novel coming off the success of his first novel, The Arsonist’s Daughter. However, suffering from writer’s block, Tripp is unable to complete the second novel, and continues to add more pages to the already two thousand page novel. Meanwhile, he is having an affair with Sara Gaskell (McDormand) the wife of chairman of the English department, Walter. He struggles between confessing his love for Sara while also resolving issues with his current, and third wife Emily.

One of Tripp’s students, Hannah Green (Holmes) has a crush on him while another promising and talented student, James (Maguire) is having personal problems that are beginning to affect his work. To make matters worse, his editor, Terry Crabtree (Downey) arrives looking for information on Tripp’s second novel. There are many characters in Wonder Boys, all with unique and appealing personalities, but each one is given enough time to develop and the actors do an excellent job in fleshing the characters out.

The films eccentric dry humor is refreshing and captivating as the story unfolds and the quirky nature of everyone comes to surface for some entertaining moments. Crabtree in particular, played to perfection by Robert Downey Jr., is certainly one of the most complex individuals in the film. His frivolous and sarcastic nature only masks his depressed and insecure feelings towards himself. Tripp realizes that Crabtree is seen as a joke over at the company where he works because Tripp has yet to finish his book. So, everyone looks at Crabtree, Tripp’s editor, as a failure and company joke.

Katie Holmes does a nice job as well. Early in 2000 it seemed as if Holmes was appearing in a few indie pictures to boost her acting credits, and it worked. Three years later she was the lead in Pieces of April, a film about a woman preparing dinner for her family coming to visit her in her new apartment. Although it was quietly released, Holmes received critical praise. Another actor however with a stand out performance comes from Toby Maguire as the troubled James desperately seeking acceptance from his peers and more importantly his mentor Tripp.

The quirky and eccentric nature of James hides the mysterious parts of his life, which he keeps concealed from others despite their interests in trying to know him. James accompanies Tripp on his adventure to speak with Emily, and the pair bond over pot smoking and murdering the chairman dogs, but to be fair it was self defense; one of the funniest moments in the film. Maguire is an exceptional actor and it’s great to see him in films that allow his to show his talent. The relationship Tripp and James develop throughout the course of the film comes off sincere and genuine as the two connect on past circumstances that led them to where they are now.

The film during its release was well received with critical praise however it’s not well known despite the rave performances and excellent storytelling. Wonder Boys is one of those hidden gems that only a select few seemed to be aware of. Michael Douglas is not in a lot films these days and to see him in Wonder Boys is a reminder of his prowess as one of America’s greatest actors. Don’t forget, his father is Kirk Douglas.

While Wonder Boys may not be on the list of talked about or popular movies of the decade, it is certainly one of the best. Serious issues related to life are addressed but in a humorous dry manner with witty and quirky characters that are exciting and engaging to watch. Douglas and Downey play off each other perfectly as they become embroiled in a strange tale with comedy twists masking the serious ideas of the story about life. An excellent and well done film that deserves more attention for its engaging storytelling and compelling characters, Wonder Boys is a film that everyone should see at least once.


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