About A Boy is interesting because it is a rom-com that falls under the category of ‘Man Child Learns To Grow Up’, also known as a ‘Peter Pen and Wendy’ story or a ‘Bromantic Comedy’. These films are linked to names such as Gerard Butler and Judd Apatow, and I generally hate them. But I do love About A Boy. This is probably because the overriding genre of this film is neither romance nor comedy, but drama, which can be the magical ingredient in an otherwise problematic genre blend.
About A Boy is a great example of a ‘Transgression Comedy’, also known as the ‘Imposter Story’ — in itself a subcategory of the ‘Secrets & Lies’ story, in which the hero pretends to be someone they are not. The mask is ripped off eventually, and this leads to their character growth.
Premise: A cynical, immature young man is taught how to act like a grown-up by a little boy.
Designing Principle: A man finally learns to grow up from a genuine adolescent boy.
Theme Line: In order to find love you must be your true self, as well as be unselfish with your time and wealth.
Story World: A handsomely decked-out apartment as an Oasis in London, juxtaposed with the mayhem of a comprehensive school yard and an erratic home plagued by mental illness.
Symbol Line: The island versus the community.
Arc Word: Island. The character of Will says it several times throughout the film.
TRANSGRESSION COMEDY STRUCTURE
Discontent: The hero Will Freeman realises he can’t get adequately laid without investing some sort of emotional commitment.
Transgression with a mask: Will poses as a single father so he can meet up with single mothers, who he perceives as emotionally unavailable in the long term but good for a few weeks of shagging.
Transgression without a mask: Marcus starts stalking Will and realises he doesn’t in fact have a 2 year old called Ned. He uses this information as a ransom — Marcus will keep quiet about the deception if he goes out with his depressed mother.
Dealing With Consequences: Via a woman he is interested in from S.P.A.T (Single Parents Alone Together), Suzie, Will meets up with a boy called Marcus Brewer who decides he’s going to be Will’s friend, because he would like a father in case his mother tries to kill herself again.
Spiritual Crisis: After spending afternoons together watching crappy TV in Will’s apartment, Will inadvertently begins to care about Marcus. Because he starts to care about Marcus, he opens himself up and starts to care about forming a real connection with a woman, and when he meets Ali’s mother he genuinely starts to fall in love.
Growth Without a Mask: Will grows into a more emotionally rounded person, which is evidenced by his willingness to make a complete fool of himself on stage in order to save Marcus from complete social suicide on stage. Note that a battle scene precedes this growth; feeling depressed about having been dumped by Rachel, he brushes Marcus off after Marcus finds his mother crying on the couch.