Pittsburgh English professor Grady Trim, generously and likeably played by Michael Douglas, is not one to suffer writers block in Curtis Hansons Wonder Boys a much-anticipated follow-up movie to LA Confidential.
With a bit of help from weed rather than booze, while attired in one seriously-dishevelled bathrobe, Gradys been writing his second novel for a good seven years.
Its supposed to be the much-anticipated follow-up (sound familiar?) to his huge debut success. The book is rather like Grady himself, aimlessly adrift.
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Thats probably why hes just got the heave-ho from yet another young wife. But, more significantly, hes been carrying on with his boss wife, Sara Gaskell (Frances McDormand, the pregnant sheriff from Fargo). Shes also his boss, the chancellor of the university. And shes pregnant. So it looks like time for Grady to get a bit of direction.
Wonder Boys is a movie that is keen to accentuate the positive and not be taken too seriously, but as was the case with LA Confidential, its a movie that just steers within reach of the tragic.
Socially-isolated James Leer (Toby Maguire) is the student who helps Grady put things into perspective. He writes the kind of stories that make the rest of the class want to slash their wrists, so hes got to be good. But only a partly-envious Grady and fellow student Hannah Green (Katie Holmes from Dawsons Creek) seem eager to champion him.
The next time we see him hes holding a small gun, alone at night, staring into space. And whats more, hes got a thing for memorising Hollywoods long list of suicides.
Hes not exactly your Sal Mineo rebel-without-a-cause, but hes suggestive enough to offer a dark side to the movie. However, what we actually get is a far lighter, leisurely and comic film, with Douglas and Maguire at times like a comedy double-act as they negotiate predicaments such as a dead dog and a stolen Marilyn Monroe jacket over the space of one long winter weekend.
Its a sweet-natured movie made by an intelligent filmmaker, and a career-best for Douglas, but perhaps tragedy just aint what it used to be, and this is a movie which begrudgingly knows that all too well.