Obsessed with his hair, his clothes, his CD collection and—most important—casual sex with no relational strings attached, Will floats lazily through life.
Things that are shallow. ... The Florida Everglades National Park after a two month drought. A backyard pool dug out by a 5-year-old armed only with a plastic shovel. A movie festival that only shows films directed by the Farrelly Bros. None of these things are as shallow as Will. Obsessed with his hair, his clothes, his CD collection and—most important—casual sex with no relational strings attached, Will floats lazily through life, unencumbered with even a job since his father made the family wealthy by penning the royalty-rich Christmas fave "Santa’s Super Sleigh." How shallow is Will? When his comfortably numb routine gets pricked by a short-term relationship with a single mom, he realizes he’s discovered something exciting: single moms are emotionally needy women who are willing to give sex. Or at least, so he thinks. Armed with this new intelligence, Will scams his way into S.P.A.T. (a support group called Single Parents Alone Together). To do it he invents a 2-year-old son who’s often at his "mother’s" place and starts eyeing a cutie named Suzie. But Suzie and Will’s one date at the park goes awry when she insists on bringing her friend Fiona’s son, Marcus, along. Fiona, she says, needs some time to herself. Fiona doesn't want time alone to rest, it turns out, she needs time to kill herself. Will, Suzie and Marcus find her overdosed and unconscious when they return from the park.
Fiona survives and Marcus realizes that his mom "needs backup." "Two people aren't enough," he says. So he attempts to set Will up with his mom. In the process Marcus discovers that Will doesn’t have a son. Threatened with boyish blackmail, Will gives Marcus free reign of his trendy flat to keep him quiet. As the number of afternoons spent watching TV mounts, Will begins to like the awkward social outcast. Then something even more unthinkable happens: Will starts falling in love. Not just sexual infatuation. Not mere manipulation for personal gain. With whom? A single mom named Rachel. The problem? She thinks Marcus is Will’s son. And Will doesn’t have the heart (or, more accurately, the guts) to tell the first woman he's ever loved the truth.
positive elements: About a Boy touches on the nature of love and the necessity of living for more than yourself. Fiona and especially Marcus serve as examples of sacrificial love and devotion. Despite the fact that Fiona flirts with suicide, her love for Marcus is more than evident. Knowing that her son is constantly bullied, she repeats an encouraging mantra with him as they walk to school: "Who are you?" "I’m me." "What are you not?" "A sheep." "And how does a sheep go?" "Baaaaaa!" they say in unison, smiles spreading across their faces. Marcus initially tries to set his mom up with Will in order to help her depression. But when she lapses back into a funk, he’s determined to ease her despair by singing her favorite ‘70s tune at the school rock concert, despite the fact that it will be social suicide for him.
Will, on the other hand, serves as Marcus’ foil, emphasizing the boy’s virtues through his complete lack of decency. He’s self-centered, viewing his life as a one-man TV program: "I was the star of The Will Show. And The Will Show wasn’t an ensemble drama." He concludes that living for himself "guaranteed a long, depression-free life." He’s wrong. While he initially decides to let Marcus into his life so that he could be "Cool Uncle Will, King of the Children," the boy slowly worms his way into Will’s true affections and shows him how pointless his selfishness has become. His transformation manifests itself in various ways. He buys Marcus stylish new shoes to replace his battered brown ones and with pleasant surprise realizes, "I had made an unhappy boy temporarily happy and there wasn’t anything in it for me." He spends Christmas with Marcus’ family and actually enjoys a real family holiday for the first time. When Marcus falls for a girl at school, Will tries to help him sort through his feelings. "Do you want to touch her?" he bluntly asks. "Is that important?" Marcus quizzically replies, saying that he’d rather be able to talk openly and lovingly with her than simply have sex. "I suppose if I had all those things I wouldn’t care if I touched her," the boy says. Will initially responds with patriarchal condescension, but later comes to agree when he falls in love with Rachel.
[Spoiler Warning] Marcus pushes Will to tell Rachel that he’s not a single parent ("If you’re going to be with someone, shouldn’t you be honest?"), even though it costs him the relationship in the short run. The pivotal point in Will’s redemption comes when Marcus is about to sing at the rock concert. Will charges backstage and tells him that destroying his reputation for his mom is stupid since it’s impossible to make anyone happy. Besides, he says, if others can make you happy, they can make you sad as well, so best steer clear of the whole business. Which is, of course, the film’s point: Will lives a life full of cool cars, cable TV and disposable cash, but completely devoid of real friends—a meaningless existence. As he watches Marcus stride alone onto the stage and begin to sing in a broken, quavering voice, he swipes an electric guitar and serves up an up-tempo version of the song, saving the boy (and himself) in the moment of crisis.
Themes such as the damage done by divorce, the difficulty of single parenting, children’s need for fathers and the brutality of bullying are raised as well and receive similarly stimulating treatment.
sexual content: Will is a tomcat and as such has little problem playing multitudes of women. A montage depicts scores of ex-flames telling off the selfish jerk for mercilessly dumping them. He suggestively flirts with women on the phone while volunteering for Amnesty International. His first relationship with the single mother is obviously sexual and in one scene she straddles him as he sits on the couch (they're both fully clothed). When asked to become a baby’s godfather, he declines, saying that he’d probably try to get her drunk and sleep with her when she turned eighteen. At S.P.A.T., one woman wears a T-shirt with the slogan "Lorena Bobbit for Surgeon General." After listening to the jilted women’s testimonies, Will crudely comments, "After about 10 minutes, I wanted to cut off my own penis with a kitchen knife." During his daily "Web research," he attempts to log onto a sleazy site. Crude sexual expressions get tossed around by many characters, including Marcus.
violent content: While Will flirts with Susie during their date at the park, Marcus chucks a massive loaf of his mother’s "health bread" at a duck in a pond, instantly killing the creature. Bullies smack Marcus in the head with a football and pelt him with hard candy.
crude or profane language: About a Boy more than earns its PG-13 rating with the heaps of foul language it tosses around. The f-word gets dropped twice and the s-word about 10 times. Twenty other milder profanities appear along with almost 30 uniquely British crudities and vulgarities. God’s name is misused about 25 times. Even more disturbing is how often these words pop out of Marcus’ mouth.
drug and alcohol content: Casual drinking is common at dinners, family occasions, dates and when just kicking back on the couch. Will smokes regularly.
other negative elements: While the film acknowledges the huge social role music plays in kid’s lives, especially those of single parents, it seems to wink at the negative impact it can have. Rachel’s son has posters of Limp Bizkit in his room and performs in a rap group named Death Penalty Crew at the school concert (his mom proudly attends). One running gag involves Will’s purchase of the Mystikal single "Shake Yo A--" for Marcus so that he can, ostensibly, fit in at school. One scene shows the 12-year-old shimmying through the halls and singing the profane chorus. Interestingly, Marcus is aware that most rap tends to be about people wanting to kill one another or have sex.
conclusion: Is this the same Paul and Chris Weitz who assaulted us with the hyper-raunchy American Pie movies? Coming from them, About a Boy almost seems like an attempt to prove they have souls. But soul alone isn't enough. While awash in noble themes absent from their previous efforts, sexual impropriety and scads of profanity will make most families want to wash this Boy's mouth out with soap.