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Wonder Boys


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Movie Review

Professor Tripp is burned out, drugged up and desperately in love ... with another man’s wife. Specifically he’s in love with Sara, the chancellor of the university, who just happens to be married to his immediate boss in the English department. Flying by the seat of his pants, drinking himself silly, smoking pot every other minute, Tripp succeeds in entirely ruining his life, and dragging one of his students with him, before hitting bottom and bouncing. The student along for the ride is James, a young man fascinated with telling lies, movie star suicides and all around sadness.

Positive Elements: Any positive elements here would have to be highly subjective in nature. When Tripp finally "bounces" at the end of the film, one can see that his self-destructive behavior and drug abuse was wrong and brought him zero joy, while leading a peaceful, married, stable life free of narcotics is the best shot a man has at happiness. Also, while Sara considers having an abortion, it’s clear that she decides to keep her child.

Spiritual Content: A student’s off-color remark blasts Catholics. James comments that when Catholics fall, they fall hard (he claims that his mother turned to stripping after leaving the church).

Sexual and Homosexual Content: While Tripp’s student Hannah all but throws herself at him, he steadfastly ignores her in favor of pining for Sara. Meanwhile, his editor, Terry (played by Robert Downey Jr.), flirts with, then beds the college-age James (sex is implied by seeing the two in bed together in the morning). Terry is so "taken" with James that he dumps a transvestite "date" he picked up at the airport in favor of seducing the younger man.

Violent Content: A dog is shot and killed after it attacks Tripp. Threatening gestures are made with guns on a couple of occasions, but no one is injured.

Crude or Profane Language: Twenty-some f- and s-words appear. Jesus’ name is used and abused quite a bit as well.

Drug and Alcohol Content: Tripp smokes marijuana constantly throughout the film. He offers it to James, who turns him down at first, telling him that he wants to remain in control of his emotional state. Later, however, he indulges with gusto as well. Many times the two mix their pot with hard alcohol, and even chase codeine pills with liquor. Cigarettes put in a few appearances as well, but it’s the weed that dominates here. Amazingly, Tripp gives it up in the end, and that’s a good thing, but he gives his remaining stash to a student when he does.

Summary: Wonder Boys presents a despairing, brooding and melancholy look (despite the fact that the film is billed as a comedy) at the world of a writer who just can’t get it together. It meanders haplessly, bumping against the furniture of senselessness, obstinately forgetting to flip on the light until seconds before the credits roll. Sure, the acting is top-notch, the characterization deep, but what does it get you? A stoned man leading his students down the path of destruction on a intellectual leash. One more point. It’s pitiful that the movie pretends that it is perfectly okay and normal for a thirtysomething male to project his homosexual appetite on an emotionally distraught college student. Wonder Boys deserves a dunce cap.


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Michael Douglas as Grady Tripp; Tobey Maguire as James Leer; Frances McDormand as Sara Gaskell; Katie Holmes as Hannah Green; Robert Downey Jr. as Terry Crabtree


Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, The River Wild, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle).


Paramount Pictures



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Steven Isaac

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