Wonder Boys

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Wonder Boys Movie Poster Image
This grand mess of a movie has many pleasures.
  • R
  • 2000
  • 111 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Violence

Scenes with gun, dog attacks character, dog gets shot, car crash, threats.

Sex

Extensive and fairly explicit references, including adultery.

Language

Frequent strong language.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Extensive, including drinking as a response to stress.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie has drug and alcohol abuse, adultery, homosexual and heterosexual references (including a transvestite character), references to suicide, and very strong language.

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What's the story?

Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas), a college professor whose award- winning book was published seven years ago, is under pressure from all sides. His third young, beautiful wife has just left him. His mistress Sara (Frances McDormand), who is married to his boss, is pregnant with his child. His best student James (Tobey Maguire) seems suicidal while young student Hannah (Katie Holmes) has a crush on Tripp. And his editor Crabtree (Robert Downey, Jr.) is pressing him for a new manuscript. Tripp has a manuscript but does not want to show it to anyone. He's irresponsible, but he cares about Sara more than he knew and he cares about James more than he thought he could. James is drunk on words and stories. Tripp may have been that way once, but now he resorts to drugs. All the characters here are coping with problems and yet all are remarkably honorable and helpful. In another movie, Tripp might think of stealing James' manuscript, but in this one, he lets it replace his own, solving both James' and Crabtree's problems.

Is it any good?

This movie has a lot in common with its main character: Both are shambling and directionless, with a literary gloss and great deal of charm and intelligence. And both need all of that to be forgiven for their many failings. Tripp is in something of a stupor, not just from alcohol and drugs, but from success, and failure. He still has James' passion for writing, but he no longer has the innocence and sense of possibilities to "make the choices" necessary. When he says, "Sometimes people just need to be rescued," he is talking about himself as much as James.

This grand mess of a movie has many pleasures, including a terrific soundtrack, marvelous performances, and a beguiling but highly improbable ending. Tripp's colleague says that everyone has a story. What gets you from there to writing? He mentions faith, and Tripp mentions keeping at it. One reason is that stories like this one, highly imperfect but worthwhile, are what help us get to the ones that really make it all the way there.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they think of Grady -- hero or fool? Where's the moral compass in this movie? Who do your kids feel empathy for and why? Do they think that Grady's troubles accurately reflect the pressures of adulthood?

Movie details

For kids who love quirky characters

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