Will, the rich, womanizing, London-based hero of "About a Boy," is shamelessly indolent (he's living off the royalties of his father's hit Christmas jingle), spoiled, selfish, solipsistic and self-admittedly shallow. He's also, as played by Hugh Grant with devilish charm, irresistible. There's something bracing about a movie hero this blithely irresponsible, especially when he narrates his own tale with a cynical wit Oscar Wilde might envy. Movie purists will tell you that a heavy reliance on voice-over is a sin ("show, don't tell"), but when the words are this funny, to hell with purity.
Always in pursuit of fresh female conquests, Will starts frequenting meetings of SPAT (Single Parents Alone Together), where, posing as a single dad, he picks up vulnerable single moms. This is how he comes to meet 12-year-old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), the nerdy son of a depressive and badly dressed vegetarian (Toni Collette). The fatherless Marcus insinuates himself into Will's life. We know, of course, that before the tale is over, Marcus will be the source of Will's redemption. But if the uplifting ending is preordained, and a bit pat, there's nothing predictable--or less than delightful--about the route this adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel takes to get there. Directors Chris and Paul Weitz, working from a script they wrote with Peter Hedges, wring just the right amount of poignance from the comedy without ever getting sappy. Their sophisticated crowd pleaser is the first big studio movie of 2002 I didn't want to end.