Only a man with the charm of Hugh Grant (Extreme Measures, Notting Hill) could have taken the role of this self-centred man in metamorphosis and made him likeable. Grant not only makes him the picture of why some are paranoid when starting new relationships, but also makes him the embodiment of someone that women would want to change. Grant's comic timing is impeccable, and the level of depth given to his role admirable, for he makes you take a closer look at Will, wondering if maybe keeping everyone at bay is just out of a fear that no one will like him if they get close.
Either writer Nick Hornby is a single parent himself, or is friends with someone who is, for I can think of no other explanation for the perfect, if a bit extreme role of Fiona, Marcus' mom (played by Toni Colette of Changing Lanes, and The Sixth Sense). Rather than making Fiona a superwoman, Colette allows her character to have problems, letting her be stressed and worried, along with being able to take pride in her son, and find joy in simply being with him. Single parents aren't perfect, and the fact that Colette has let that element of Hornby's writing shine through onscreen makes her character feel 100 percent real to me.
Nicholas Hoult (The Fallen Curtain) does a wonderful job as the young Marcus. As is the danger with nearly every role written for a child, it could have fallen flat, but Hoult does quite well, making Marcus a kid who's alarmingly precocious, with eyes that suggest an awareness of life far beyond his 12 years of experience. Above and beyond the fine acting in About A Boy I was quite impressed by the fact that although a number of single parents were represented in this film, every single one of those characters was treated with respect. It's a tough job that I (along with a zillion others) try and do to the best of our abilities each and every day, and I have seen film upon film that paints single parents as people to be pitied. Not so here. There are no judgments, or victims to be found anywhere within the boundaries of this story.
Nick Hornby is an incredible writer. His lines of dialogue are so well constructed that were you to pull a random group in off the street to recite his work you would come away with a good product. How wonderful to have actors of Grant's and Colette's calibre to pump it into the category of superb.