Dir: Curtis Hanson. US. 2000. 112 mins.
Prod cos: Scott Rudin Productions, Mutual Film Co. US dist: Paramount Pictures. Int'l sales: Mutual Film International (+1 323 871 5690). Prods: Scott Rudin, Curtis Hanson. Exec prods: Adam Schroeder, Ned Dowd. Scr: Steve Kloves, based on the novel by Michael Chabon. DoP: Dante Spinotti. Prod des: Jeannine Oppewall. Ed: Dede Allen. Mus: Christopher Young. Main cast: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr, Katie Holmes, Richard Thomas, Rip Torn, Philip Bosco, Jane Adams.
Michael Douglas creates an appealingly screwed-up lead character in Wonder Boys, Curtis Hanson's effective portrait of mid-life crisis. Playing a college professor with a hit novel behind him endlessly trying to complete his second book, Douglas takes a refreshing step away from the affluent bastard roles he inhabited in The Game and A Perfect Murder.
Indeed domestic distributor Paramount Pictures came up with a bold poster campaign composed solely of Douglas' craggy, unshaven face. But this is no Fatal Attraction. Douglas or no Douglas, Wonder Boys is a $35m movie about intellectuals, which will probably only be appreciated by adult specialised audiences. The gross in North America after three weekends is $15m; foreign distributors, who bought the film from co-financier Mutual Film Co, cannot expect to do much better in their territories.
Based on the book by Michael Chabon, it's a coming-of-age story of sorts - only 50 year-old Douglas is the one coming of age. Helping him on his journey which takes place over one frenetic weekend is morose but gifted student Tobey Maguire, his married lover Frances McDormand, his flamboyant and desperate gay publisher Robert Downey Jr and another student with a crush on him Katie Holmes.
Set in bleak, wintry Pittsburgh, it's a sobering, often very amusing film cleverly directed by Hanson and well-acted by a superlative ensemble. Shame it didn't open in Oscar season, since a rash of awards could have helped it out at the box office immeasurably.