Much of the plot of “Wonder Boys” revolves around the unfortunate writers-block that has overcome the gloomy and depressed Pittsburgh professor, Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas).
The combination of a recent separation and a dependence on marijuana puts Grady in a constant foggy state. The fact that Tripp is our narrator means that we must see the other characters in that same fog.
Although the technique is done in other films, such as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Pulp Fiction,” it seems to have a different effect. Instead of just showing characters shooting heroin or doing cocaine, we see a true anguish in every hit Tripp takes. You feel bad for him at first. Apart from the minuscule drug references, “Wonder Boys” also has scenes of adultery, transvestism, homosexuality and dog killing. The scenes are kept appropriate though. Unlike scenes in other films, the gay references aren’t taken too far, but yet they are not tiptoed around.
Set on a snowy Pittsburgh campus, and on the same day Grady’s wife left him, we get to see to see him at rock bottom. In the first scene Grady is shown teaching his graduate level writing class, it is here where we meet our next characters.
Having the complexion and demeanor of a cadaver, we are introduced to James Leer (Toby McGuire). Being the star writer of the class, according to Grady, he fails to get the same positive attention from his classmates; claiming that his work it’s too religious, too depressing and according to one student, “Makes me want to kill yourself.” The only student to defend Leer’s work is the unusually cheery, red boot wearing Hannah Green (Katie Holmes). We see more of Hannah’s character, not only because she rents a room in Tripp’s house, but she also the only friend of James Leer.
Grady has always noticed the talent James possesses, but he always been hesitant about telling anybody about him. Knowing that James is both emotionally unstable and downright creepy, he is unsure as to the reaction James would have upon being released to the competitive and cruel writing industry. As it turns out, something Grady never expected to happen happened.
The arrival of Tripp’s flamboyant and feisty editor, Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey, Jr.,) only furthers Grady’s depression. Crabtree, known for his unusual sexual tastes and his tendency to be seen with transvestites, becomes very fond of James (not just the writing). Grady’s character, ends up having to add that into his long list of problems. Similar to that of Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Grady finds himself in the wrong place, at the wrong. He must face his never-ending book, his failing marriage, his unborn child to his boss’ spouse (Frances McDormand), the dead dog in his trunk, and the mysterious man who thinks he stole his car. Will he do it is the question that this movie answers.
Not only did the screenplay win an academy award, but it has a type of twisted dark humor that toys with your mind. Although it’s rather sad and unfortunate for Grady, you find yourself laughing at him rather than feeling sorry. I suppose its Grady’s humor that prevents you from feeling for him. Much of the film deals with the relationship between Grady and James. For someone so mysterious, we see a different side of Leer’s character.
Clouded by Grady’s unhealthy lifestyle, the films shows that even the most successful people still party like typical college kids. The scene I particular enjoy involves the best-selling author, Q (Rip Torn). Q is seen accepting a prestigious award at the college and upon accepting reward, he follows with an equally prestigious speech. He begins his speech with, “I…am…a…writer.” At that moment you know this guys ego is about to explode. We automatically assume this character is just ridiculous. The funniest part about this, shown in the next few scenes, is the juxtaposition between the same Q who gave his speech, and the Q we see grinding on some college girl in a bar, taking shots, and making sexual innuendos. The scene also shows Grady and Crabtree getting drunk and causing all sorts of shenanigans.
“So there it was. Somewhere in the night, a Manhattan book editor was prowling the streets of Pittsburgh; best-selling author at his side, dead dog in his trunk.”
– Grady Tripp