Movies You Should See #30: Wonder Boys • directed by Curtis Hanson
We’ve come to the last film in my series of movies you should see, and though my last film is the last simply because of the alphabetical order in which it came, I can’t help but be glad that the film I’m ending on is Wonder Boys. I have a very short list of what I consider to be perfect films, and this one is on it.
An aged writer and college professor, Grady Tripp, is plagued by the fact that he once wrote a great American novel. It’s made his classes popular, his editor anxious for the follow-up and left Grady constipated. Instead of having writer’s block he has the complete opposite. His follow-up novel is thousands of pages, single spaced, typewritten with no back-up - and it’s crap. Grady knows it. But he can’t stop writing. His personal life is a mess, students constantly pulling on him, an affair with a married woman and his creative constipation is at the heart of it all. In one weekend, as Grady’s personal life begins to spin out of control his professional life does too and Grady has to decide what he’s going to do as he reaches rock bottom.
This is one of the few films that is perfect on every level. Wonder Boys is one of the best written, directed and edited films I’ve ever seen. Steve Kloves, who wrote this film (and went on to pen most of the Harry Potter films) is the king of adaptations, and the novel this film is based on is by prolific writer Michael Chabon. Together these two create a a wonderful text that is free of cliches, but filled with flawed characters that cannot be described as anything but beautifully human. Curtis Hanson made this film as his follow-up to LA Confidential, and proved that his hand as a director is subtle and powerful - getting the best performances out of his talented cast (Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand, Tobey McGuire, Robert Downey Jr., and more) and delivering a picture that speaks of a generation that is trying to figure out what to do with the American dream.
I first saw this film as I was starting college, working at a video store and realizing that I wanted to make films. I know that Curtis Hanson and Wonder Boys was a huge influence on me, probably more than I realize even now. And when you watch this film, I hope it will influence you as well - even if it’s just a film that makes you see a little bit of beauty in the brokenness of people.