Paramount Pictures | Release Date: February 25, 2000
8.0
USER SCORE
Generally favorable reviews based on 38 Ratings
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Positive:
33
Mixed:
4
Negative:
1
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3
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 nobody in Hollywood actually GO to college?
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6
SpangleSep 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. It is the kind of movie that is released and fades into obscurity, not just because it bombedWonder 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.
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