Friday, April 27, 2018

Now on Amazon Prime: Wonder Boys (2000)

Wonder Boys (2000) - Directed by Curtis Hanson; Written by Steve Kloves; Starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes, Robert Downey Jr., Frances McDormand, Rip Torn, Richard Thomas, Alan Tudyk.

By Kenny Howell

Wonder Boys came out when I was in my second year in college. After leaving film school as a lazy 18-year-old who wanted to stay up late and play Nintendo 64 instead of my school work, I went to community college to get my grades up, then on to a state university to chase my dream of being a famous writer.

I should have known that the cards were stacked against me because I was a terrible student, and, as I would find out later, I couldn't write a novel. I do not have the patience or talent, but it worked out because I ended up in the newspaper business, which, of course, now means I am unemployed and reviewing 18 year old movies on a website I created.

I say all this to point out that the Kenny of 2000 was in the perfect place to like a movie like this, about writers, so I was curious to see how much I liked it now years after being an insufferable wannabe writer. Happily, I can report that it is just good as when I saw it all those years ago and I am just insufferable now minus the wannabe writer.

Wonder Boys played fairly well in the awards circuit that year, but was mostly left out when it came to Oscar time except for Bob Dylan winning for Best Song, and two other nominations. It's a shame because this might be Michael Douglas's best performance. He is fantastic as a writer teaching at a college while trying to get his second book, a follow up to a monster hit, out before people forget about him. He wasn't even nominated for the Best Actor award that eventually went to Russell Crowe for Gladiator (for some reason). The movie is small, taking place over the course of a weekend as Tripp tries to get his life in order. We open the movie as his wife has left him, and as he heads off to an event at the college chancellor's house. He is also having an affair with the chancellor's wife played perfectly by Frances McDormand.

To make things worse, Tripp gets tangled in an adventure of sorts with one of his talented students, James Lear, a very of the time Tobey Maguire. The chancellor's dog hates Tripp and attacks him. James does what he has to do to get the dog off Tripp, which is shooting the dog twice in the chest with what he claims is a cap gun. They get out of the chancellor's house with the dog's corpse, but things keep piling on them, and Tripp can't seem to get out of his own way.

For a movie that is loose and free in its story, it is very tightly controlled by the late, great Curtis Hanson. Hanson probably didn't get enough years to make the great movies he could have made, sadly passing away in 2016, but he made several that will stand like this and LA Confidential. The movie is a joy to watch, and although the great cast has a lot to do with that, Hanson keeps thing flowing so fluidly.

It's a shame that Wonder Boys kind of got lost a bit back in 2000. It definitely has its champions, like myself, but it should have been so much more. Luckily with the streaming world as it is nowadays, you still have a chance to jump on board.

Wonder Boys is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Rating: ****

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