Wonder Boys’ Journey Into Manhood

Wonder Boys is one of those films that all the critics talked about, but nobody seemed to see. Well, not nobody, but very few unless forced to watch this for a film class. Based off of Michael Chabon’s novel of the same name, director Curtis Hanson had a lot to work with in this movie. Thankfully, although much of the story line from the novel is dropped, the integrity is completely intact. Wonder Boys is a movie about writers, or specifically one writer, as he deals with writer’s block and his own midlife crisis. It’s true, a novel about writers makes a little more sense, but one of the most powerful aspects of the novel is the authoritative voice of its protagonist, Professor Grady Tripp.
I will admit to not normally being a Michael Douglas fan, but he is able to channel something in this character. While that’s normally praise deserved of the author, and Chabon does deserve his credit, Douglas does deserve some of the praise. Much of the comedy in the film is dry and Douglas’s delivery is what seals the deal for me. His disinterest in the affairs of even his own life, no matter how wild the get, is simultaneously endearing and distressing. As Tripp tries to figure out his own life, and brings the audience along for the ride, he exudes an unquestionable calm and maintains his sense of humor throughout. However, while the very fact that Michael Douglas is in a movie that I enjoyed is praise worthy alone, the supporting cast does deserve its credit as well.
Wonder Boys features an outstanding supporting cast, namely Frances McDormand as Grady’s pregnant, middle-aged mistress, Sara, while his editor, who goes by Crabtree for most of the film, is played by Robert Downey Jr. and Grady’s wayward and sexually ambiguous student James Leer is played by a pre-Spiderman Tobey Maguire. Frances McDormand is charming and restrained in the role of Sara. She brings that quiet desperation of her marriage to the character to create a fully-dimensional character that is endearing to both Grady and the audience. Crabtree is a much more complicated matter. Although it seems that as Grady’s editor he is there in a professional capacity, as the film progresses we are shown a much more personal dynamic between the two. Crabtree transforms from the life of the party to a man, who is just as lost and confused as everyone else. By the end of the film, none of these characters are who they were at the beginning, but that’s particularly true of the relationship between Grady and Crabtree, but also Crabtree and James. Maguire plays the role of the tortured artist to a tee. There are times when he makes you laugh and other times when your heart is breaking for him.
Although Michael Douglas is the protagonist and performs as I personally have never seen him before, he’s obviously not the only one of note. The supporting cast of the film is crucial in the relationships that they establish with Grady. Although none of the relationships in the film are perfect, they’re human. As such, the characters of Wonder Boys showcase life in all its complexities and the laughter and the fear that come along with it.


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