It's no secret that fatherhood sometimes visits men unexpectedly. Out of the blue, storks will swoop down on an unsuspecting porch and drop off a squirming, squealing bundle of joy. Life then changes dramatically for the new father, opening up strange and sometimes smelly vistas of trial, exasperation and, ultimately, wonder.
It's the rarer father visited by a stork struggling to lug around an 11-year-old bundle of joy. Especially when the father hasn't even met the mother yet.
In truth, Will is no father—not biologically, not emotionally, not spiritually. He's a thirtysomething guy going on 18, or maybe 12. He lives for juicy steaks and all-night parties and his next sexual conquest, not raising a kid to be healthy and happy and stuff.
But when pretty vegan flowerchild Fiona moves in next door with her 11-year-old son, Marcus, Will becomes—by accident, really—a father by proxy. The kid, in desperate need of a dad to balance out his loving but despondent and ever-so-slightly-out-there mother, gloms onto Will like spray cheese on a cracker, collecting whatever wisdom (using the word loosely) Will might shed like so many crumbs.
Will doesn't want Marcus in his life—at least at first. And in that, at least, he's in full agreement with Fiona. When she looks at Will, Fiona sees a frightening man-child with the libido of a caffeinated rabbit and a predilection to devour murdered animals. Not the sort of guy she wants her impressionable son to emulate.
Nor should viewers emulate him. Will spends more time in bed with strangers than a Serta salesman, more time running away from responsibility than Congress. Based on a novel and a movie that share the same name, About a Boy has loads of rough edges, from its inclination to sexually driven storylines (sometimes complete with couples in various stages of undress) to its somewhat rough language to its constant aura of laughable irresponsibility.
Underneath those content problems, though, this comedic caper is strangely family-centric, maybe even conservative.
Don't stop reading. And don't write letters to my editor. Just follow along for a minute: Fiona's doing everything she can to raise Marcus to be a fine, considerate, upstanding man—and in some ways is doing a whale of a job. But it's not enough, and Marcus instinctively knows it. He wants a guy in his life to hang out with, to teach him the realities of life (even if those lessons come from as imperfect a teacher as Will). He needs a father—or at least someone who can at least sometimes mimic a father.
And Will—a guy who rolls his eyes at his best friend Andy's oh-so-domestic family life—discovers that Marcus and Fiona add something that had long been missing in his own. He grows attached to them. He begins to embrace the responsibility that comes with being a part of their lives. The traditional triune nuclear family is all there and all necessary to make this "family" work—even though the threesome is far from perfect and, well, isn't really a family at all.
Kick away the kudos for now, if you want; there's too much negative content, at least early on, for them to carry much weight anyway. But About a Boy has the potential at least to end up being about more than three dysfunctional souls in San Francisco. It's about a family, after all, and its story may figure out ways to worm its way past all the dumb dimples and gratuitous giggles. (Wouldn't that be a laugh?)
Will follows a "hot" woman into a single-parent support group and tries to impress her by making up a kid of his own—who was stricken with leukemia and then healed via voodoo and animal sacrifice. Later, the two fall into bed together, and (onscreen) she strips down to her black bra and panties while ripping off his clothes (revealing boxer briefs). Elsewhere, sexual conversations are heard by kids on the show and viewers at home. There's talk of "an orgasm," "flopping about" and "seduc[ing] some other boy." There's a visual nod to oral sex. Will grabs the woman's rear in front of her kids. And he uses Marcus to cement his chances of having sex with her, having him masquerade as his son.
Along the way, Will introduces Marcus to the joys of eating barbecue ribs—but behind his vegan mother's back. And there's plenty of angry/sarcastic conflict between Fiona and Will. But we do see Will start to develop a sense of care for Marcus that extends beyond his own selfish desires; and he rushes to the lad's side to help him get through a school talent show unscathed. It's implied that Fiona's meditation practices are inspired by Eastern mysticism. Will drinks a beer. Characters say "d‑‑n," "puss" and "a‑‑." God's name is misused a couple of times.