Wonder Boys

Rated: R
Stars: Michael Douglas,
Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire

Kudos to Michael Douglas for headlining this odd little tale of university life amid an even odder mix of characters.

Douglas plays Grady Tripp, a university English professor in this ever snowy-rainy Pittsburgh setting. It’s been seven years since his last great novel put him in the books and his robustly gay editor Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.), has been anxiously waiting all this time for his next one. Some of his students think Grady may be all washed up as a writer, something he has in common with them. He is, after all, 2,000 pages into his second novel and he still can’t seem to get anywhere near to finishing it. He’s a pot head who’s having an affair with the married Chancellor of the school, Sara Gaskell, well-played by Frances McDormand.

But what makes the movie is the odd relationship he develops with James Leer, a troubled student whom he believes is a gifted writer, maybe even better than he once was himself. Tobey Maguire as James is wonderful despite the fact that he plays the same zombie-like character in all his films. Obviously he’s found his niche. Although he’s a bit more animated here, I think.

The wackiness begins the night the university kicks off Wordfest, the college town’s annual literary fair. Grady attends a reception at the Chancellor’s house, discovers that Sara is pregnant with his child and then gets involved in a theft of an heirloom perpetrated by James. On the way out, the blind family dog who has always despised him, manages to mangle Grady’s leg sufficiently to give him a perpetual limp – and good for Douglas because he never once let’s us forget what has happened to him

Between trying to cope with his wife leaving him, Sara’s pregnancy and his love for her, James’ many, many personal problems, his editor pushing to read his new work while at the same time hitting on James who Grady is trying to protect, plus the inexplicable black outs he’s having, Grady is a veritable basket case. But it’s all handled easily with terrifically original humor and in an unusually subdued manner. This is a wonderful script by Steve Kloves from a Michael Chabon novel. Rich characters fill richly structured scenes. Michael Douglas some of his very best work as the rumbled, confused professor and Downey, Jr. is marvelous.

It’s directed by Curtis Hanson who last did L.A. Confidential.

Lotta says it’s a wonderfully done, strange little film, indeed.

Reviewed 12/26/00.