All too often, a novel doesn’t translate into a movie, and a movie doesn’t work as a show.
NBC’s “About a Boy” breaks that cycle.
The pilot that airs Saturday, Feb. 22, does a great job introducing a callow cad, an odd boy and his strident mom. The comedy then moves to its regular time slot on Tuesday, Feb. 25.
Minnie Driver plays Fiona, the self-righteous, single mom of Marcus (Benjamin Stockham). They move from England to San Francisco, next door to Will (David Walton). They begin acrimoniously when she asks him to not barbecue meat because she’s vegan, and the wind carries the odor.
Driver does insufferable perfectly.
“Her heart is absolutely in the right place,” Driver tells Zap2it. “She is a really sweet soul but is terribly funny because of her earnestness.”
If this seems familiar, it’s the latest take on Nick Hornby‘s 1998 novel and Hugh Grant‘s 2002 film.
The relationship between Will and Marcus, initially, is equally mercenary. Will picks up a cellist on the trolley, then lies about having a son who had leukemia. To bed the cellist, Will needs Marcus to fake being his son. Marcus, as he says, now owns Will. But they need each other.
Considering Fiona’s idea of a treat is beet-flavored ice pops with essence of kale, it’s no wonder that Marcus relishes ribs at Will’s. Will helps Marcus stand up to school bullies. And in the famous scene, which is in the pilot, Will rescues Marcus from committing social suicide at a school talent show.
“What we wanted to do was take this — what was so beautiful in the book and in the movie and something that I felt really — a story that I really loved, and honor that and then give us the room to be moving forward with telling new stories and sort of making it our own,” executive producer Jason Katims says at a press conference.
Katims (“Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood”) knows something about showcasing family dynamics.
There’s a lot to mine here, given what’s missing in Will’s life, how much Fiona and Marcus love each other and how brittle she is.
“Anyone who has an element of fanaticism in their lives, be it about food, working out, religion or politics, has a bit of self-righteousness in their life,” Driver says.
Will and Fiona don’t like each other and won’t become a couple.
“They are not romantically linked and continue to battle,” Walton says.
“He’s the kind of guy who thinks he has the world figured out,” Walton says. “He has all the money he needs from writing a jingle that was kind of crappy, but he can do what he loves. He can chase women, play video games, eat delicious food. Then this little boy comes into his life and starts to carbonate his needs for system and substance.”
Marcus wants to please his mom, and the pilot does a lovely job of showing each character’s foibles – the womanizing musician, the weird kid, the humorless mom — but leaves room for them to grow.
“He’s got a heart,” Walton says of Will. “He’s more complex than he puts on and has a lot of feeling. He puts on this front that he has everything figured out. He puts on this rakish front, but there’s a little boy beneath it. There are two boys, and we watch this very odd couple grow up together.
“Minnie’s character and him will come to this odd shared love of this kid,” Walton continues.” And I think that is what is so cool is that they don’t know it, but it really is this family coming together.”