Michael Douglas plays the college prof with one book under his belt and a smart-ass student (Tobey Maguire) about to steal his thunder with his debut novel, which is going to be glorious, headline-grabbing, sexy, everything Douglas once was but now just isn’t. However, this fading wonder boy does still have enough residual kudos to make him a honeypot for a girl (Katie Holmes) who’s attractive dark-haired and far too young for him (and what a nudge nudge that was at the time). He’s also having an affair with his boss (Frances McDormand). And, on the weekend of frenzy that we catch up with him, he’s being pursued by his drug-monster editor, played by Robert Downey Jr (more good casting), who’s wondering how much longer his author is going to keep him waiting for his book. It’s been seven years. In short, Douglas is over 50 and has both the face and the life he deserves.
When this film first hit the screens, some critics were aghast that Douglas could happily play someone so unlike the Michael Douglas who’d been stalking movies since 1987’s Fatal Attraction – the alpha male busting with testosterone of Wall Street, Basic Instinct or The Game. And didn’t he look old. And dishevelled. But one of the real strengths of Douglas is indifference to what others think (Remember the hoo-haa when Falling Down came out?). But then maybe when you’ve got the Oscar, the dynasty and the girl, the opinions of others aren’t worth an awful lot.
Director Curtis Hanson’s first film since LA Confidential is funny, zappy and emotional. It’s an adult film in the best sense of the word – driven by character, comfortable with what it is, rich and complex. There are plenty of campus novels but not so many campus movies. Wonder Boys helps address the imbalance.
© Steve Morrissey 2013
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