The Film

I can remember when I first watched Wonder Boys (so long ago) how much I related to the James Leer character: shy, slightly damaged, awkward, and at a typewriter absolutely in his element (even though the movie nor book ever show him actually writing). In contrast Grady, a writer sailing on past success, is eager to mingle among the crowds, smoke pot, and to stir it all up sleep with and impregnate the university’s Chancellor(!) (whose husband also happens to be the Chair of the English department). Along with memorable roles by Robert Downey Jr. (yes kids he was an actor before Iron Man!), Katie Holmes, Francis McDormand, and Rip Torn, Michael Douglas fits the role perfectly as a grumpy writer dealing with past glories and writers block. There is believable chemistry with Sara, and you do root for them to just do what it takes to be together, happier, and more productive (as Grady does become by the end of the movie, also thanks to giving up pot). The other characters aren’t given much resolve, their fates hand-waved as their presence fades away to keep the focus on Grady and Sara.

The Book

I did not complete the book by Michael Chabon. I really wanted to, but after getting sucked into the vortex of the “family visit” it was just too much of a slog compared to the movie. This is a shining example of foresight and having more time to develop a story. Now compared to the film, as you can for any adaptation, it’s debatable whether it’s “better” or even “proper”, as it does change what the original author wrote, even if the overall story is still the same.

In contrast to the film, in the book Grady is a larger/fatter man, Crabtree wears slick shiny suits, and we get far too much information about Grady’s soon-to-be-ex, an adopted Korean in a Jewish family. When Grady and James visit, we don’t get any more character information or development of those two; it’s all about the rest of the family, ie nobody who will have any effect on the actual story of the book (or what is supposed to be the main plot).

By the time they return home, and where I stopped reading, there weren’t many pages left in the book. I could already tell it was going to be a rush to resolve everything and have a proper and satisfying ending. Overall while I really liked the concept of the novel, its execution and focus was lacking. This is something that could have benefited greatly with another round or three of major editing and re-writing; I think the movie clearly shows its true potential and re-structuring/refinement.