Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Small Wonders

By Ray Pride

FEBRUARY 28, 2000:  A shaggy-prof story that is never less than an absolute delight, Curtis Hanson's "Wonder Boys" (from a script by Steve Kloves; from the novel by Michael Chabon) is a marvel of subtlety and grace.

On its surface all slapstick and slaps at the characters' self-indulgence, "Wonder Boys" is, in fact, a knowing, bittersweet picaresque—a slippery, witty study of youthful promise and middle-aged maturity after a long-protracted adolescence.

The slick, sleek, slimy Michael Douglas as a fumbling, bumbling, humbled nice guy? Who would have thought it?

Hanson, after making critical hay with "L.A. Confidential," wanted a retreat into comedy, and "Wonder Boys" is a wonder all its own—a shapely, seductive telling of a weekend of unlikely adventures in Pittsburgh in the life of Douglas' unfocused novelist-academic's life. There's seldom a work so adult in its concerns—and comic exaggerations—from studio films. It's damn good.

It's beautifully cast, too, and Hanson brings out the right notes in his major players. They include Tobey Maguire as a gifted student of Douglas', an alternately haunted and just plain spooky pathological liar; Frances McDormand as his peer and mistress; Katie Holmes as another tenacious and articulate student who's ready to work out a daddy complex; Robert Downey Jr., as Douglas' lusty, flirty gay book agent; Rip Torn as a best-selling blusterer and Richard Thomas as McDormand's husband, the quintessential cuckolded academic.

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