Wonder Boys


Generally favorable reviews - based on 36 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 28 out of 36
  2. Negative: 0 out of 36

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Critic Reviews

  1. Plenty of fun while it lasts, but its aftereffects are mighty fleeting.
  2. 75
    With a wistful look at the wages of ambition and the failure of promise, Wonder Boys finally celebrates self-awareness, ending on a muted, quietly moving note of triumph.
  3. Reviewed by: Jay Carr
    A sweet screenful of quirky chaos.
  4. Except for moments of labored symbolism and a too cozy ending, the movie stays sharply focused on its well-chosen targets.
  5. The casting of Michael Douglas against type as an over-the-hill novelist and writing professor is the sort of clever move that wins undeserved Oscars.
  6. 100
    The most accurate movie about campus life that I can remember.
  7. An often-wondrous comedy, just as rich and surprising as "L.A. Confidential" but considerably less dark.
  8. Reviewed by: John Hartl
    A giddy delight, with Michael Douglas delivering what may be the most relaxed and inventive performance of his career, and Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr. trailing not far behind.
  9. Reviewed by: Robert Horton
    Well-crafted scenes that carry a bracingly grown-up tang: unhurried, played in a low key, with plenty of time to savor the details of character and place.
  10. 70
    It's striking on several counts.
  11. A handsomely mounted, graceful production that is well-played across the board.
  12. 75
    A wonderfully rumpled, loose comedy about the paralyzing fear of failure.
  13. 82
    This is certainly the best studio movie of the new year to date, and Douglas might even be remembered at next year's Oscars.
  14. Among the movie's oddball treats are Robert Downey Jr. as Grady's flamboyant editor and Rip Torn as a pedantic author and sermonizer known only as Q.
  15. The smartest movie to come out this year, and it could hardly be better cast.
  16. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    (Douglas) is a superb (and underused) comic actor, one who knows that the secret of being funny is never begging for a laugh.
  17. Lovely performances from McDormand, Downey and Richard Knox, who looks uncommonly like Little Richard, as a bar owner named Vernon Hardapple.
  18. 100
    One of the most joyous, diverting and original mainstream American movies in years.
  19. Rolling Stone
    Reviewed by: Peter Travers
    Michael Douglas digs deep and delivers one of his best performances in Wonder Boys -- a comic dazzler of roguish wit and touching gravity that is driven by characters, not jokes.
  20. 80
    With a cast this terrific and a story this rich and wry, Wonder Boys really can't miss, even if it thumps to an underwhelming and moralistic ending that undoes a fair amount of its goodwill.
  21. The first more-than-halfway-decent movie of a new millennium.
  22. A terrific movie about middle-age malaise and a comedy of unusual wit and drollness.
  23. 75
    See Wonder Boys for the acting, particularly McDormand and Maguire, but use the goofy moments to get popcorn refills.
  24. Maguire and Douglas are extraordinary (though Douglas feels a little old for his role, which seems to have been written for a man in his early 40s); even Downey Jr. delivers a sharp, understated performance.
  25. Reviewed by: Emanuel Levy
    Massively inventive, Wonder Boys is spiked with fresh, perverse humor that flows naturally from the straight-faced playing.
  26. 90
    Downey, who radiates more energy doing nothing discernible than most other actors do when they let it all hang out, takes the film to another level.

Awards & Rankings

User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 41 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 8 out of 11
  2. Negative: 2 out of 11
  1. Sep 13, 2016
    Wonder Boys is the type of film that is difficult to discuss, simply because it elicits so few thoughts as you progress through the film. ItWonder Boys is the type of film that is difficult to discuss, simply because it elicits so few thoughts as you progress through the film. It is the kind of movie that is released and fades into obscurity, not just because it bombed financially, but simply because it failed to ever make an impression. Though it did not resonate too much with me, I do think that is a shame because there is a lot of good here.

    Wonder Boys' biggest sin has to be stereotypical approach to its topics. The general narrative of a lost man finding his path with funny hijinx along the way and the with the help of a few crazy characters is screenwriting 101. Unfortunately, the film really fails to add anything new to the trope and thus, much of what it has to say falls on deaf ears simply because it feels extremely "been there, done that".

    This said, this plot is so cliche because it is so effective. Most films that follow this path, if well-executed, can never be outright bad simply because they elicit so much positivity and just make you feel good. In essence, Wonder Boys is a crowd pleaser. For many, this will rank among their favorites simply because of the strong writing and the way in which the film has an indelible ability to bring a smile to your face. Hell, they kill a dog and it is hysterical! That is unheard of in film. The dog dying typically brings a dark cloud over the film, but this one makes it funny. A true accomplishment of the film's pitch black comedy.

    The film is also blessed with good performances across the board. Frances McDormand and Katie Holmes turn in good performances, even if their characters are pretty one-dimensional. Robert Downey Jr. plays a good gay druggy, as expected. The only two characters with some real meat to their bones are Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) and James Leer (Tobey Maguire). Douglas plays the grisled, unhappy, and aimless college professor very well and, though it is certainly not a role you expect to find him in, he demonstrates his considerable range. He does often play unhappy and adulterous characters, yes, but certainly not ones who have merely lost their path. No, his mid-life crisis characters often come with a dose of crazy attached to them. Here, he is the rock and the settled down adult, except he is simply feeling worthless. He finds his worth in the troubled James Leer. For me, Tobey Maguire is often hit-and-miss, eve in the same role. As the unhinged, brilliant, and deeply mentally ill Leer, however, Maguire is a wonder. With only slight emotion shown throughout, he is able to perfectly capture the inner feelings of Leer and bring them to light.

    Good acting aside, the film's writing is a little on-the-nose at times, namely as Douglas spoon feeds the audience what the point of the movie actually was. If you did not figure out that Tripp and Leer needed one another and learned from each other, then director Curtis Hanson ensured he literally told you. I am never a fan of movies that simply do not think highly of their audience and Wonder Boys seems to fit the fill.

    However, Wonder Boys is simply so pleasant, I cannot complain too much. Often pretty funny, moving, and quite engaging, the film is a true crowd pleaser that possesses a career-best performance from Tobey Maguire. Though the writing is typical, thin, and the dialogue is on-the-nose, Wonder Boys is a largely enjoyable and interesting look at a man finding his path with the help of someone who barely realizes there is a path.
    Full Review »
  2. TedB.
    Aug 27, 2001
    Three points for the score. The few good moments in this film can't compensate for the stereotypical "writers" and "academics"---- Did Three points for the score. The few good moments in this film can't compensate for the stereotypical "writers" and "academics"---- Did nobody in Hollywood actually GO to college? Full Review »