I wrote this review several years ago. It was originally published in the March 28, 2009 issue of AVENues. I have added the star and ace ratings for this post.
About A Boy
Starring: Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult
Written by: Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Directed by: Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz
About A Boy is a movie about relationships – how we build them and why they matter. A single middle-aged man and a lonely twelve-year-old boy develop a friendship that becomes the hub of a broader community. It’s a storyline with a lot of relevance to asexuals, but the relevance goes beyond the asexual community to a broader group of people: those who value friendship and seek to make it the organising principle of their lives.
Will is an unemployed straight man who funds his hedonistic lifestyle with the royalties off a song his father wrote. Marcus is a working-class kid who is bullied at school, and whose single-mother, Fiona, suffers from chronic depression. One is basically a kid who refuses to grow up; the other is being forced to grow up too fast. The story follows these two “boys” as they try to figure out life and relationships together.
Both characters start off leading lonely, isolated lives. Will’s isolation is self-imposed. Declaring defiantly that “all men are islands”, he shuns relationships and the responsibility that comes with them. Marcus shares a close relationship with his mother, but her attacks of depression leave him feeling alone and helpless. He becomes convinced that it isn’t enough for them to rely on each other; they need at least one more person to make their family unit complete.
Following conventional reasoning, Marcus decides his mum needs a boyfriend, and fixates on Will. There’s just one problem: Will and Fiona aren’t the least bit interested in each other. In another movie, that might be the end of it, but Will still holds a fascination for Marcus, who starts hanging out at his house every day after school. The two friendless “boys” spend their afternoons sitting in front of the television together, and gradually bond. Marcus begins to depend on Will, and Will, in spite of himself, grows attached to Marcus.
Valuable as it is in itself, the friendship is only a starting point. As Will says, once you open the door to one person, anyone can come in. So Will develops a crush on Rachel, and Marcus develops a crush on Ellie. Marcus wants to do something special for his mum, and Will gets sucked into helping him. Without intending to, Will and Marcus find themselves building their own little community.
Their community-building project stands in contrast to the logic of the conventional nuclear family. For Will and Marcus the community becomes like a family that revolves, not around a sexual relationship, but around their friendship. The characters find themselves at a loss to explain this friendship, but it is deeply important to both of them. This kind of community-building has relevance to many people, and especially to asexuals. Without sex as a basis for socialising or making a family, asexuals must find other ways to integrate people into their lives. The film demonstrates one way in which that can be done.
The fact that the movie can tell a story like this makes it very asexual-friendly. There is even one conversation that I think a lot of aces could relate to: Marcus is talking to Will about Ellie and asks him what the difference is between a girl-friend and a girlfriend. Will thinks the answer should be obvious. “Do you wanna touch her?” he asks, and is taken aback by Marcus’s reply: “Is that so important?” It’s not that Marcus doesn’t know about sex; he just doesn’t get what the big deal is. As he says, “I wanna be with her all the time. And I wanna tell her things I don’t even tell you or mum. And I don’t want her to have another boyfriend. I suppose if I could have all those things, I wouldn’t really mind if I touched her or not.” Marcus is probably speaking from a pre-sexual rather than an a-sexual perspective (does that make a difference…?), but what he describes is essentially a kind of asexual romantic relationship, the kind many asexuals would love to have. Though decidedly sexual, Will comes to see the appeal of this perspective, and ends up not only understanding Marcus’s feelings, but realising that they are not so different from his own feelings for Rachel.
The final scene of the movie shows the boys sitting down to Christmas dinner with Fiona, Rachel, her son, and others. In the end, both characters learn a lesson about relationships. Will learns that men are not, in fact, islands, but need other people in their lives. Marcus learns that there is more than one way to build a community. Romantic relationships may be part of that, but friendship and family are just as important.
3 Stars; 4 Aces