Wonder Boys

There’s little about this likable movie that makes me want to read the Michael Chabon novel it’s adapted from; by all indications, it belongs to the grungy-artist-as-lovable-slob genre, a la The Horse’s Mouth, even if the screenplay (by the underrated Steve Kloves) makes it seem relatively fresh. The casting of Michael Douglas against type as an over-the-hill novelist and writing professor is the sort of clever move that wins undeserved Oscars, yet the realization of at least half a dozen of the other characters is full of unexpected pleasures. This movie about writers and editors hasn’t much of a clue about the processes of either profession, or even much feeling for literary types, but the storytelling is so good-natured and assured I didn’t really care. What’s finally so agreeable about this ambling farce, set over a sordid weekend in snowy Pittsburgh, is all the things it’s uncharacteristically relaxed about, including frumpy middle-aged adultery (between Douglas and Frances McDormand), smoking pot, gay sex between an editor (Robert Downey Jr.) and a much younger writer (Tobey Maguire), an interracial couple, and the laughs that can be derived from a dead dog. Producer-director Curtis Hanson’s follow-up to L.A. Confidential has all the warmth I missed in that movie and then some. 112 min. (JR)

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