"About a Boy" is a popular 2002 film starring Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult. It begins with a self-centered mid-single man named Will (Grant) who lives off of the royalties of a Christmas jingle his father wrote. So he has no job and doesn't need one. He insists that he is an "island" and doesn't need anyone in his life. He spends his day playing pool, getting haircuts, watching TV, buying things, and figuring out ways to date lots of different girls. A couple of his married friends offered to make him godfather to their daughter Imogene. Will's response was, "I can't think of a worse godfather for Imogene." He said that he likely wouldn't do anything to help her until her 18th birthday, when he would take her out, get her drunk and, "let's face it, probably try and shag her." The mother says, "I can't really believe you're that shallow." Will boastfully responds, "No, you've always had that wrong. I really am that shallow."
Will develops an elaborate scheme to date "single mums" by attending a support group and pretending he has a two year-old child named "Ned." It actually works and he begins dating a woman from the support group he is attending. They end up on a Saturday outing to a park. The woman informs Will on their way out the door that they are taking her friend's geeky teenage son "Marcus" (Hoult) on the outing with them because his mother (Toni Collette) is not feeling well. His mother is something of a hippie and gives him a loaf of bread to take on the picnic. It is hard as a rock and won't break when Marcus tries to feed the ducks with it. In desperation, he finally throws the entire loaf into the pond and kills a duck with it. Forever after that he calls that day "the dead duck day."
When Will and his date take Marcus home, they find his mother lying unconscious, having attempted suicide. They call an ambulance and rush her to the hospital, where she receives life saving treatment and lives.
Marcus is very disconcerted by his mother's suicide attempt. He is bullied at school and doesn't have any friends. He is such a target for bullies that even the other geeky kids don't feel safe hanging around him. He also realizes that the only person he really has in the world is his mother, and she is unstable. He says to himself that one person is not enough. "You need backup." So Marcus turns to Will, the "island" man, and starts dropping by his apartment after school. At first Will is resistant, but eventually takes a liking to Marcus.
One day when Will sees Marcus getting bullied, he takes him out and buys him some cool new shoes. Of course, soon thereafter, the bullies steal the shoes and he has to walk home in the rain in his stocking feet. As he explains the situation to his mother, he is forced to tell her who bought him the new shoes, and she goes to a restaurant and confronts Will about "these little after school tea parties." Will gets upset, tells her off for being a bad mother and not knowing what her son needs, and vows to "not open my door to Marcus again, adding "I'll be grateful to be rid of the pair of you frankly." The mother then seems to shift her position by saying, "so that's it then, you're out of his life?" She asks him if, by some miracle, he is right about what Marcus needs and she is wrong, what he is going to do about it. At first he claims that Marcus is none of his business, but continues to allow him around his apartment, gives him socially relevant Christmas presents, and coaches him through his first crush. He observes that, "When you let one person in, all sorts of other people come in too." I think, perhaps, that is the most important idea in the movie. Marcus helps Will to realize that being an island isn't enough. There are "Island chains." Will realizes that he needs people in his life.
After he lets Marcus in, Will takes a fancy to another beautiful "single mum" named "Rachel" (Rachel Weisz) and wants her to be his girlfriend. He wishes that he was "in any way interesting" to make him more appealing to her. He interjects a comment about Marcus in a conversation she is having with someone else, and she assumes that Marcus is Will's son. Not having learned his lesson yet, Will allows her to go on believing that, even when he brings Marcus over to her house for a Saturday afternoon. During that little event, Marcus is forced to associate with Rachel's son Ali (Augustus Prew), who is one of the kids bullying Marcus at school. When he threatens to cut Marcus into little pieces if he doesn't stop his "father" from dating Rachel, Marcus goes running from the house, and Rachel is forced to do some advanced single parenting.
Will ultimately decides that he has to tell Rachel that Marcus is not his son, but he blames her for choosing to believe it. She gets upset that he has been lying to her about having a son and breaks up with him.
Will, fresh from this stinging rejection, blames Marcus for messing up his relationship and says he can't help him with "real things" like his mother's depression. Marcus gets upset and decides the only way to make his mother happy is to sing "Killing Me Softly" in front of his entire school at a talent show, playing a tambourine that his mother gave him for Christmas.
After Marcus deserts Will and stops coming around his house, Will misses him and realizes that his perfect little life doesn't mean anything. He realizes that the only thing that means anything to him is Marcus. So he goes to Marcus's mother and pleads with her not to try to kill herself again. In the course of this conversation, he learns about Marcus's plan to perform at the talent show and knows immediately that it is going to get him bullied even worse at school. Will and Marcus's mother rush off to put a stop to Marcus's plan.
When they get there, Will pleads with Marcus not to perform and tells him that he cannot make his mother happy, and she has to do that for herself. Marcus disagrees and goes out on stage. He begins a timid performance and is about to be laughed off stage when Will shows up on stage with an electric guitar and gives a humorous (but a little more "hip") performance--for which he takes an apple to the head from a heckling student in the crowd. His performance saves the day for Marcus. Rachel is in the crowd and is impressed by Will's willingness to make a fool out of himself to get Marcus through his moment of humiliation. She gets back together with him and Marcus develops some sort of relationship with the first crush. The closing scene of the film is where they are all celebrating Christmas together as a hodgepodge of misfit people.
I love this movie for a few reasons. First and foremost, I think it explores the fact that letting one person into your life and your heart can open the floodgates to a whole lot more love. Marcus's persistence softens Will's heart, and he realizes that it feels good to love and be loved. Once he let Marcus in, he could let Rachel in and have more than a superficial relationship.
I also love that this movie is full of single parents who are finding their own ways through life, and a confirmed bachelor who develops a parental kind of love for a young kid. They are figuring out parenting mostly on their own. When I was a mid-single, I often said, "We are the Island of misfit toys." I think it helps for mid-singles to be together and give each other support. It is tempting to draw a little bubble around ourselves and our children and stay isolated. Having been through significant traumas, it feels safer to close people out. But letting more people in is important. Letting love in is essential.
The important message of "About a Boy" is that life doesn't mean much if you are an island. It means more when you share it with others. If you want a funny, heartwarming movie, find this one, pop some popcorn and enjoy. If you are a mid-single, I think it will speak to your heart.