There are a few ways you can approach this film, it could be a serious look at how mental illness of a parent can affect a child, it could be a comment on modern society or even it could just be a frothy romantic comedy about nothing in particular. Don’t waste your time having your own opinion though because Hollywood adapted this film into a TV show recently and came up with the subtle tagline ‘You don’t have to be related to relate’ (said in a cheesy American voice, just make sure to pause before you say ‘to relate‘).
So there, we found the premise. We meet a wealthy single man, Will, played by Hugh Grant, who has no interest in doing normal adult things like getting married or having children. He is so wealthy in fact he doesn’t even need to work, and he owns a 6 disc CD player – woah. His world is eventually ‘turned upside down’, which in reality means through a series of lies, dates and twists of fate he meets a 12-year-old* boy called Marcus who is Nicholas Hoult. Yes, that one, the one from Mad Max: Fury Road, who somehow managed to make the transition from child actor to grown-up actor without any issues whatsoever.
On the periphery of this bond is Marcus’ mother, Fiona, played brilliantly by Toni Collette. She is a free-thinking vegetarian single mother with a mental illness. And while most of the film is a light-hearted romantic comedy there are numerous heart-wrenching scenes with Marcus sat watching his mother cry uncontrollably as she tries to make it through everyday life. It is a serious portrayal of depression and a serious look at how a child lives and deals with issues their parents are trying to conquer. You begin to understand the reason he wants to hang out with Will is purely to avoid home life. He naturally can’t comprehend why his mother is so upset all the time.
Marcus’ initial reaction, as so often is the case with children, is to bottle up these complex emotions, and Will being the selfish man he is, doesn’t really know how to talk to him about… well anything. So we find ourselves in a position where Will and Marcus meet daily but neither of them really understand why.
If you also look hard enough you will find a few social comments on the capable helping the incapable. Especially highlighted when Fiona, Marcus’ mum, finally finds out he has been hanging out with a grown man every day. After confronting Will, he angrily tells her why he thinks Marcus is so unhappy and why Marcus wants to hang out with him, he then tells them both to ‘piss off’ and leave him alone. At this point, Fiona sits down next to him and plainly asks ‘So what are you going to do about Marcus? If you know he has all these problems and issues, you can’t just leave him, can you? To which Will replies ‘but it is not my problem’.
Who’s problem is it? Well, that is difficult to say. Naturally though, the child takes it upon himself to cure his mum of her sadness and embarks on an agonisingly embarrassing journey under the impression it will help his mother. Now, I’m sure I have made this film seem heavy, and it isn’t, however having seen this film a few times when I was younger it is only now I see these heavier elements in it. They’re important and it shows once again how crucial educating people on mental health is – including children. The guilt felt by Marcus for his mum’s depression will sink your heart, Will’s relationships struggles and views on life will make you laugh.
In the end, you will have seen a film which tackles important issues as well as made you laugh all the way through. What more can you ask for? Well, you could ask Hollywood to stop dumbing these things down, as its version of events remove the depression and mental health aspects altogether and base her difficult relationship with her son on the fact she is vegan – because we all know having a vegan mother is a real deep-seated issue in society.
I give it a Nike logo out of 12.
*Guessed that age completely.