About a Boy by Nick Hornby (1998)
About a Boy directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz (2002)
I was in the mood for something funny and lighthearted, and I remembered in Cover to Credits yearly wrap up episode, they mentioned About a Boy and how funny the book had been. It’s been on my TBR ever since, and it felt like this was the right time to read it.
And it didn’t disappoint! I really enjoyed this book! It is funny, and there were times that made me chuckle out loud. It also covers some heavy topics including suicide, and it never talks about it in an irreverent way, but it also doesn’t talk about it in a super heavy way either. It reminded me of Silver Linings Playbook in that sense, because that book does the same thing-staying lighthearted despite covering serious topics.
I loved the characters and of course loved the bond between Will and Marcus.
I wanted to mention that Nick Hornby is also the author of High Fidelity which I have read and watched, but that was back before I started Why the Book Wins. I definitely want to cover that one as well at some point!
The script was adapted by Peter Hedges, who was the author of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape! He adapted his own book for the movie, and it changes his career and he began writing more scripts, including this one!
This movie has two directors, and one of them, Paul Weitz also directed Being Flynn, an adaptation of one of my all-time favorite books-Another Bullshit Night in Suck City!
I really enjoyed this movie, and overall, it is a faithful adaptation and was well cast. The biggest change is with the ending.
Will dating single moms
In the book and movie, very early in meeting Will we see him visiting friends who have just had a second child. In his internal monologue we hear how much he dislikes being around kids, what a mess their house is, and how he can’t imagine what he is “missing out on” by not settling down and having a family. Then the couple asks will to be the godfather to their baby. In book and movie, he immediately shuts this down, saying he is a terrible choice. The wife says that she assumes there was more depth to him than meets the eye, to which he says no, I really am this shallow.
In the movie, he says he then went on a date this couple set him up with and it turns out the woman has a child.
Whereas in the book, he saw a woman from behind at a record shop asking about a children’s album to give to her niece. He is later at a coffee shop and sees a woman there who he assumes is the same woman. He says to her that he likes the name of the children’s album. She looks at him confused, and he realizes this isn’t the same woman. From here though they start a conversation and he gets her number. This was a much funnier way of meeting her then just being set up like in the book.
Anyway, in both, he realizes that dating attractive single moms is the jackpot because he seems so much better than their ex and she is so into him, simply because he isn’t her ex. However, he decides he wants to end I, but then things work out even better and the woman ends up breaking it off instead.
Will then decides he wants to date more single moms, but the problem is he doesn’t know where to find them. But he then reads about SPAT-Single Parents Alone Together-a support group for single parents. While there, he gets a date with a woman there named Susie.
I really enjoyed the plotline of him creating a fake son in both book and movie, but especially the book. At one point, he is thinking how at some point he will have to get rid of Ned somehow and thinks about having him die. The book reads, “it was tragic, tragic, [but] life goes on? Maybe not. Parents got pretty cut up about kids dying, and he’d find the requisite years of grief a real drain on his thespian resources.”
At another point in the book, he is at a party and he feels he is uninteresting and then it reads, “He missed Ned. Ned had given him an extra something, a little il ne sait quoi, that would have come in handy on an evening like this. He wasn’t going to bring him back to life, though, poor little sod. Let him rest in peace.”
Marcus and Fiona
The book goes back and forth from Will’s perspective and Marcus’s. In the beginning, we see that Fiona is Marcus’s mom and she has split from Marcus’s dad. She is depressed and has started crying in the mornings, which is bad because usually she waits til the evening to cry.
We also see that Marcus is bullied at school and has no friends. Partly because Fiona is little out there, and therefore Marcus is a little out there and just doesn’t fit in.
Dead Duck Day
In the book, Marcus tells his mom she can’t sit around crying all day and she needs to be more present. Then that Saturday, she tells him he is going to go to a SPAT picnic with Susie, so she can have some time to get herself together. In the movie she sends him with Susie, but in the movie, Marcus doesn’t get upset at her about crying.
So, Susie, Marcus, Will and Susie’s toddler are at the picnic and Will and Marcus don’t really hit it off.
Marcus then goes to feed bread to the ducks, but ends up just throwing a whole loaf, hitting a duck in the head, and killing it. He tells Will and Susie and when a park ranger comes over, Will helps cover up for Marcus, saying the duck had been dead already.
Before they leave, Marcus sees a vision of his mom waving to him in the distance. Considering what happens later, I loved this in the book and was glad they included it in the movie.
Will comes up with them, when dropping Marcus off, and when they come inside, they see Fiona took a bunch of pills to commit suicide and has thrown up. They call an ambulance and all of them go the hospital. This is upsetting for Marcus of course and from then on, he refers to it as Dead Duck Day. Will just finds it exciting and a nice thrill to change up his usual routine.
Will, Fiona, and Marcus
After this, Marcus realizes he needs more people in his life, that way if one dies (like his mom almost did). He decides he needs to find his mom a husband, that way there will be three, and then hopefully she and the new guy will have their own kids, and then there will be four or five of them.
He ends up calling Will and asking him to take he and his mom out. In the book I think it was Will that reached out to Marcus, but in the movie, it is Marcus calling Will. Anyway, the three of them go out, but Fiona and Will don’t exactly fall in love.
Then one day Marcus sees Will out and about and follows him home. He stalks him for a bit and realizes Will doesn’t seem to have a son. He goes to his house after school and confronts him about this, threatening to tell his mom and Susie the truth.
In the end, Marcus starts showing up to Will’s every day after school and they watch tv together and sometimes chat.
Will and Marcus
When will realizes that Marcus is being severely bullied at school, he wants to help him fit in more and buys him new shoes. The kids up end stealing his shoes though and because he comes home with no shoes, he has to tell his mom about everything. She is upset he has been hanging out with Will, and even more upset when he tells her Will doesn’t actually have a son.
In the movie, Will had been out on a date and Fiona confronts him. They argue in the restaurant, and then Will is like, fine, I’ll stop answering the door from him. But then Fiona is like, that’s it? Like what if I’m wrong and you’re right, and Marcus is being bullied and you are helping him out, you are going to drop him just like that? Doesn’t he mean anything to you? Then from here Marcus invites Will for Christmas.
In the book, it is in his apartment, and Marcus isn’t with her when she confronts Will. But when she comes home, she tells him that Will has agreed not to answer the door if Marcus comes by. Marcus still comes by though and just rings the bell over and over until Will answers. Marcus does later invite Will for Christmas, but he calls him up at a later point and invites him.
I won’t get into the details of Christmas really, but I loved this part in both book and movie! Will realizing even more what a great kid Marcus is, and despite a bit of arguing, he is happy to be there and to feel part of a family.
In book and movie, Marcus gets a crush on a rebel named Ellie.
In the book, me meets her because his mom wants him to talk to the principal about his shoes being stolen. While waiting, Ellie is sitting across from him. He knows who she is, because she is sort of famous in school for always getting in trouble. He says hi to her, to which she rebuffs him. But a second later starts talking to him. He gets upset when meeting with the principal, and ditches school for the rest of the day.
From here, he and Ellie become friends and she scares off the kids that bully him. She is 15 by the way, and he is only 12.
Going to Royston
In the book, Marcus’s dad wants to see him, and Ellie offers to join him. However, the day they leave is the day Kurt Cobain died and Ellie was a huge Nirvana fan and decides to get drunk on the train. She then randomly gets off at Royston, kicks in a store window that has a Cobain cut out, and they are arrested.
She thinks the store put the cutout in just for today, to profit off the death of Cobain, but the store owner comes to the station and she is a punk rock looking woman like Ellie. Turns out she has always had that cutout in the window because she too loves Nirvana, and she too is heartbroken by his death.
Nirvana plays a big part of the book, since it takes place in 1993-1994.
The police station serves at the climax of the book, with everyone gathering at the station and coming to terms with everything. While there, Will thinks of how at the hospital for Fiona’s overdose, he had just thought it was exciting. Yet this time around, he was actually worried because he now cares about these people. While there, he looks around and thinks, “So, there it was then: an enormous, happy, extended family. True, this happy family included an invisible two-year-old, a barmy twelve-year-old and his suicidal mother; but sod’s law dictated that this was just the sort of family you were bound to end up with when you didn’t like families in the first place.”
The music performance
In the movie, Marcus’s mom starts crying again (this happens in the book as well) and he remembers her telling him how much joy his singing brings. When he sees an school poster for a talent show/musical performance thing-he signs up.
He tells his mom about it, and when she tells Will, he is like oh no, this will be social suicide for him!
They rush to the school and Will tries to convince Marcus not to go out and sing, but he does anyway. As he is out there singing on his own and being yelled at by the kids in the audience, Will gets a guitar and goes out to join him. They sing the song as a duo and the kids stop teasing him. Once the song is done, Will just continue on and starts singing with his eyes closes before finally leaving once he is finished. This was a cute moment, but when he just keeps going it felt a little awkward.
Singing with their eyes closed
When will goes over to Marcus and Fiona’s home after taking them to lunch, Fiona and Marcus start singing while she plays the piano and they sing so sincerely, and even close their eyes at one point. This makes Will feel very uncomfortable and he later thinks about it saying,
When it came down to it, he just wasn’t that engaged. You had to be engaged to be a vegetarian; you had to be engaged to sing “Both Sides Now” with your eyes closed; when it came down to it, you had to be engaged to be a mother. He wasn’t much bothered either way about anything, and that, he knew, would guarantee him a long and depression-free life.”
This part in the book was hilarious, and in the movie, it made me laugh out loud! In the movie this comes full circle when Will starts singing with his eyes closes at the end.
In the book it also comes full circle because at the end of the book Will becomes open and Vulnerable. However, at the end of the book, Marcus is starting to grow up a bit and he no longer wants to sing with his mom. The movie leaves this part out. I liked it in the book thought because as kids reach their teenage years, they become more self-conscious and wouldn’t want to sincerely sing with their parents. It is sad though in some ways when kids start to reach that stage.
In book and movie, Will meets Rachel at a party and is smitten. He feels he isn’t very interesting, so he says something about Marcus. Rachel assumes he must be his son, and Will doesn’t correct this.
He later gets Marcus to come with him to her house and he can hang out with her son while he chats with her. This plays out the same in book and movie, with the son being a little crazy initially.
In both, Will eventually tell her the truth about Marcus. In the movie, she is done with him because of it and she doesn’t want to see him again until seeing him at the school performance and she changes her mind and we see them get back together.
In the book, he tells her, and she is upset. But she doesn’t break things off with him. I really loved their relationship in the book. It was so sweet and I just loved them both.
Rachel also tells him she could talk to Fiona since she has started crying again. However, she stands them up and Will is left to be the one to hear her out and validate her and listen. He thinks he needs to have the answers, but he learns she just needs someone to listen to her.
In the movie, he and Rachel have broken up. So he goes to see Fiona at the SPAT meeting and while there tells her not to try to commit suicide again and like the book, listens to her.
I wanted to share some great quotes that talk about what a great kid Marcus is.
At Christmas, Will thinks how the gifts Marcus get are not very good at all, and is impressed with how genuinely grateful Marcus is for them and how good he is, it reads,
“Not good as in obedient and uncomplaining; it was more of a mindset kind of good, where you looked at something like a pile of crap presents and recognized that they were given with love and chosen with care, and that was enough.”
Around this same time, he is thinking how unjudgmental Marcus is. Saying that is someone saw a man roller blading with wraparound sunglasses, your average person would just think, “They just thought: wanker. But Marcus wouldn’t. Marcus would either fail to notice the guy at all, or he would stand there with his mouth open, lost in admiration and wonder.”
Then, when waiting at the police station because of Ellie, Marcus realizes how Ellie creates all this unnecessary drama, “and that she had brought the trouble she was in upon herself. He was tired of it. It wasn’t real, and there was enough real trouble in the world without having to invent things.”
Book vs Movie
This was a pretty faithful adaptation, and even though the end event is changed, the overall message is the same. I still think the book wins though. I found the book funnier, and I enjoyed the characters more. I also like that Rachel doesn’t dump him in the book when he tells the truth about Marcus. Part of the reason she doesn’t is because she says how clearly Marcus loves him, so even though he isn’t his dad, they obviously have a close bond. I would still recommend the movie, but the book just gives us that extra insight and I like the book events better because the performance scene in the movie was a bit cheesy and cliché.