So before I begin it’s only right to confess that About a Boy may be my favourite film of all time. I mean, it’s a tough group up there at the top but About a Boy is certainly hanging. I had watched the film dozens of times before I even realised it was based on a book, and I only recently got around to finally reading Nick Hornby’s novel. It may make me a little biased, but hey, I’ll try my best to be impartial (Spoiler: I don’t do a good job).
Both the book and film capture a charming story, where the lives of young but wise Marcus and old but childish Will become unexpectedly intertwined. Marcus, having just moved to London with his hippie mum, is having a pretty rough time at school and home. His mum is suffering with depression and he has no where to go when the bullies target him; he just tries to be invisible. Will, however, is living a life of luxury from his one-hit wonder dad’s royalties – no responsibility and certainly no inclination to take any on. Some how, life pushes them together and the story is, to me anyway, all about letting love in.
The casting of the film is practically perfect. Hugh Grant is the epitome of a selfish and suave British gentleman, and he plays Will exactly how I imagined. Even though I saw the film first, it’s extremely easy to see why he was chosen for the role. Nicholas Hoult, even though super young, is wonderful too. He’s completely adorable in an annoying and persistent kind of way, and does a really good job of creating a believable portrayal of a troubled kid with unusual tastes. Even down to the minor characters like Rachel, Ellie, and Marcus’ mum, each character is brought to life in a way that is evidently inspired deeply by the book. I love to see this in a film adaptation, as it shows a real respect for where the characters came from.
Generally, the story of film stays true to the novel, however the plot deviates majorly in the final sections to create a completely fresh take on the ending. It seems as though the entire climax of the book is ripped out and changed, so while the final scene is almost exactly the same as the book, how we arrive there is totally new. The ending feels different too, even though the setting and outcome are largely the same.
Rather than make the journey with a drunk and violent Ellie to cut his useless dad loose from his life, the film Marcus enters a school talent show to sing for his mum to show her how much she means to him. It’s immediately obvious that this film plot is the lighter, fluffier version of events. Ellie really takes a backseat in the film; swapping the development of Marcus as a teenager, for the development of his relationship with Will and mum. I get that there isn’t time for everything, so if any of the emotional ties from the book were to be left out I would have chosen this one too. Marcus’ interactions with Will and Fiona are much more important in my eyes.
This is definitely the kind of change that would usually irritate me, but I honestly massively prefer the films version of events. Maybe this really is because I saw the film first, but by the end of the book I couldn’t help but feel this great sadness that just ate away at me. It wasn’t quite the happy ending I was expecting; the original message of the importance of sticking together and growing to accept and support each other simply disappeared on the final page.
I hate that after all Marcus has been through in the novel, in the final chapter he decides to change who he is and how he behaves in order to be liked. I felt cheated that I’d stuck by Marcus as an eccentric but sweet little boy for the entire book, to then just have him brush his life away and decide he doesn’t like Joni Mitchell anymore. He does like Joni Mitchell, he just knows he has to keep it a secret because it’s not ‘cool’. And that broke my heart.
In the film, Marcus stays true to himself but ends up with a much better support network. The end is hopeful and positive, rather than bittersweet like the book.
I will probably read Nick Hornby’s book again, as I definitely enjoyed seeing more of the story and characters I’ve loved for so long on screen. It surprised me how different the film really is in those final scenes, and experiencing the story the way the author intended is always great. I think Hornby’s About a Boy leaves me with such a strange feeling because his writing is so uncomfortably realistic, cutting straight to where he knows it’ll hurt.
I’ve just started watching the new television adaptation too, and so far I am loving the American Will! I’ll definitely have to do an update including my thoughts on it when I’m all caught up.
Are there any films adaptations that you enjoyed more than the original book? Let me know in the comments!