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Literature / About a Boy

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"No man is an island."

A 1998 novel (set in 1993 and 1994) by Nick Hornby, About a Boy was adapted into a 2002 film directed by Chris and Paul Weitz, starring Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult and featuring a soundtrack album by Badly Drawn Boy.

Apathetic bachelor Will, who lives comfortably off of the royalties from a popular Christmas song his father wrote, comes up with the idea to join a Single Parents group in order to pick up single mums, despite the fact that he is childless. This starts off a chain of events in which he meets Marcus, an awkward young teenage boy being raised by a depressed, out-of-touch single mother.

Marcus is constantly bullied at school and feels alone in the world. He gloms on to Will, who merely tolerates him at first but begins to grow attached to the boy and helps him gain confidence, deal with his mother, and win the affection of an older punk rocker girl at his school. At the same time, spending time with Marcus begins to show Will just how empty his life really is.

In the end, Marcus becomes a more socially adjusted kid, Will learns to accept other people into his life, and everyone lives Happily Ever After.

Adapted by NBC into a TV series with the same premise. (A different pilot was also made in 2003, but it wasn't picked up.)


  • Actor Allusion: Marcus says in his narration that he would be able to take care of his mother if he were a child star, like Haley Joel Osment. Toni Collette, who plays Marcus's mother, played Osment's mother in The Sixth Sense.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Marcus and Fiona buy Will a single parents' handbook as a Christmas gift after his lie about being one is exposed. He responds to the joke with appreciation.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Owing to the film's new chronological setting, its ending is completely different from the book's. To wit: instead of an altercation at a police station and a Take That! at Joni Mitchell, Marcus uses the Concert Climax to sing his mother's favorite song in the hopes of cheering her up, with Will as last-second back-up.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Ellie has a much bigger role in the book.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The series burns through the entire book/movie plot in The Pilot and continues from there.
  • Alone in a Crowd: Will, after the argument scene with Fiona, refuses in voiceover to go over to Marcus's place for Christmas. At this point, he is walking in the opposite direction in a big crowd of people, and to drive the point home, he is the only person walking that way. A later shot shows a mirrored view of people on a down escalator, while Will is the only one on the up escalator.
  • Artifact Title: Partly true of the movie, which loses the references to Nirvana that added to the meaning of the book title. Of course, the movie still is literally about a boy (in more ways than one).
  • Book Ends: The film both opens and closes with the words "no man is an island."
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Will can be quite crafty when he wants to be and has a very dry wit but has spent his life simply living off his dad's money.
  • Character Development. Almost all the major characters undergo it—Marcus learns to take care of himself and fit in better with other kids, while his mother gets a handle on her clinical depression and stops trying to run Marcus's life for him—but it's Will (who begins the book and film as a selfish, lying hedonist who's never held a job) who has the farthest to go, and he does rise to the task.
  • Character’s Most Hated Song: Will does not need to work, instead living off the royalties of a successful Christmas song that his father wrote. Naturally, hearing the song in question is a Berserk Button for him (and was for his father as well, a composer who hated being pegged as a one-hit wonder).
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early in the movie, Marcus sees a guitar in Will's flat and asks him if he uses it to write songs, but Will basically says it's just there to look cool. In the climax, Will uses a guitar to save Marcus from committing social suicide.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In a short flashback, Will is showed working as a volunteer for Amnesty International. He is in a call-centre with other colleagues. One of them plays an important role in the epilogue: he is invited by Will for Christmas and Marcus's mother has a crush on him.
  • Concert Climax
  • Cringe Comedy: Marcus singing "Killing Me Softly With His Song"... at first.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Will, both in person and while narrating. Naturally as it's Hugh Grant.
  • Dining in the Buff: Will drinks a beer in the bath.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Everyone get their happy ending after being put through the emotional wringer.
  • Even Nerds Have Standards: Towards the start of the movie, two of Marcus's nerdy-looking classmates tell him that they can't hang out with him anymore, because the bullies only pick on them when Marcus is with them.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: When Will hears his doorbell ring, he opens the door expecting a salesman, and finds he is looking at empty space, because his visitor (Marcus) is quite a bit shorter than the average hawker.
  • Foreign Remake: The TV series.
  • Happy Ending: Marcus becomes a more socially adjusted kid, Will learns to accept other people into his life, and everyone lives Happily Ever After.
  • Hidden Depths: Initially subverted early in the film, prior to his Character Development:
    Christine: I just thought you had hidden depths.
    Will: No. No. You've always had that wrong. I really am this shallow.
  • Idle Rich: Will lives off royalties from his dad.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: The story is about one forming between Will and Marcus and how it changes both of them.
  • Ironic Echo: The film both opens and closes with the words "no man is an island." Marcus's use of it shows that he has taken it seriously, whereas Will prefers to defy it.
  • It's All About Me: Will though its really more due to his refusal to look for companionship than outright selfishness.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Will. He's selfish, immature and refuses to get attached to anyone but not a bad guy at all and learns to be kinder and more considerate as the story goes on.
  • Manchild: Will though more mature than most other versions.
  • The Matchmaker:
    • Marcus tries to create a relationship between his mother and Will. He fails.
    • In the epilogue, Will invites one of his ex-colleagues because he thinks this man would be a good match for Marcus's mother.
  • Must Have Lots of Free Time: Will, but it's justified due to him being a Royalties Heir.
  • Narrator: Both Will and Marcus provide voiceovers.
  • Never Heard That One Before: No, Will is not tired of all the people singing "Santa's Super Sleigh" once they learn his father wrote it.
  • One-Hit Wonder: In-Universe. Will lives well on the money "Santa's Super Sleigh" earns him, but breaks into frothing-at-the-mouth fury whenever he hears it. His father, on the other hand, buried him self in work and at one point writes a musical in a day as one of a long series of desperate and futile attempts to have his work taken seriously.
  • Parental Substitute: Will reluctantly spends time with Marcus at first, but eventually evolves into a sort of father figure to him.
  • Pick Up Babes With Babes: Will joins a single parents' group, in the hope of picking up single women.
  • Race for Your Love: film only, while Fiona parks the car.
  • Romantic Comedy: zigzagged trope. It uses most of the plot structure, including a Second-Act Breakup and a Race for Your Love-finale, but the "couple" are Will and Marcus. Arguably a Bromantic Comedy, though it has a much more refined tone.
  • Royalties Heir: Will doesn't have to work because he lives off of the royalties of a Christmas song that his father wrote.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Will wears fashionable clothes. At some point, he tells Marcus that he is the right person for clothing advice.
  • Shout-Out:
  • The Slacker: Will.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: With a ho, ho, ho and a hey, hey, hey, It's Santa's super sleigh ♪
  • Uncle Pennybags: Whilst he is nowhere near as rich as most of the examples, Will is able to afford a really nice apartment in the middle of London, a very nice car and able to spend at high-end establishments on a regular basis and really is fun to be around, despite never having a job thanks to the royalties from his dad's song.
  • Wham Line: Will greatly enjoys living by not caring for anyone but himself. In the film, Marcus eventually lays it down on him what such a mindset ultimately results in:
    Marcus: "You don't give a shit about anyone, and nobody gives a shit about you."
  • Wham Scene: The movie starts out funny and lighthearted until Marcus and Will come home from the park to find that Marcus's mum has just attempted suicide.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Marcus is a very dark version. His lack of a father figure, unstable mother and overall miserable life means that he has had to learn to be emotionally mature long before he should have.

Alternative Title(s): About A Boy