At first, they approach tentatively, their pens and posters timidly extended as though afraid the two men standing beneath the blank movie screen might bite or bark them out of the theater. "No, no," insists Chris Weitz, standing next to his older brother Paul. "I'm happyto sign your poster," and he proceeds to scribble his name across Hugh Grant's grinning mug. Chris' kind gesture--he signs with a smile--opens the floodgates; soon, the auditorium, which had been emptying after a screening of the Weitzes' big-screen adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel About a Boy and a post-movie question-and-answer session, begins to fill back up as word spreads through the lobby that the brothers are handing out autographs. Later, over a cocktail in the Dallas theater's lobby bar, Chris will admit his eagerness to dole out such scribbles. "Man, things like this are the only time we're recognized," he says, chuckling.
Chris Weitz, left, and brother Paul hustled About a Boy to five studios before getting it greenlit.
Though 36-year-old Paul and 32-year-old Chris have, in fact, starred in a movie--2000's Chuck and Buck, in which Chris played a character creepily shadowed by a childhood friend--they are anonymous; at dinner, before the Q&A, they strolled through a steak house without attracting a single patron's glance. Such is the lot of the storyteller who gets out of the way of the story; they glide through life unknown, unbothered and unburdened, because they make their magic on the wrong end of the lens to ever become toofamous. If one were to tell diners who they were, perhaps they would be impressed: "These are the guys who made that movie about a guy who has sex with a pie," one might offer by way of introducing the directors of American Pie. A parent might flinch; their children might dude 'em to death.
The funny thing is, Universal, which is releasing About a Boy, isn't selling the movie as being from the men who baked American Pie; quite the opposite. The poster instead advertises it as being from "the makers of Bridget Jones's Diaryand Notting Hill" and "the producers of Meet the Parents"--which is technically accurate but artistically misleading. Yes, it was financed by the UK-based Working Title Films, which was also responsible for Four Weddings and a Funeral; and, yes, Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions produced the film. But it seems somehow...dishonest(and unfair, not just a little bit). The Weitzes, who fought for years to make About a Boy, deserve better.
"It's about marketing," Chris says, with a tiny shrug.
"I think it's more like, 'It's British and the people have funny accents, but you will enjoy it,'" Paul says, between bites of chicken-fried steak.
"'And we will make money,'" Chris adds.
"I think they're probably right," Paul says, "but it goes, like, 'From the producers of Meet the Parentsand the makers of Bridget Jones's Diary,' but it doesn't go, 'From the guys who brought you pie fucking.'"
It's unfortunate the studio would choose to advertise the film this way. About a Boy--about a rich slacker, played by Grant, coming to terms with his uselessness when he meets a 12-year-old boy with a suicidal mother--actually plays like the grown-up counterpart to American Pie, which was as much about the relationship between Jason Biggs and Eugene Levy as sexually discombobulated son and compassionate pop as it was a slightly naughty teen sexploitation romp. (Indeed, the brothers will readily admit they're not fans of that genre anyway.) Grant's Will Freeman might even be the middle-aged, British version of Biggs' Jim Levinstein--a selfish, horny man coming of age only as he crawls toward 40. What the poster hides is the fact American Pie, deep beneath its crust, was a warm-hearted, good-natured film about growing up.
"I would tend to agree," Paul says.
"Maybe it'll just get 'gay, gay, gay' written all over the posters," Chris offers, and he's probably right. "We're trying to spin-doctor this so that guys won't run screaming away from it. The best indication of that should be the movie itself. So, really, we're not going to kid you; I think people are seeing it as a chick flick, and 'From the makers of Bridget Jones' doesn't help us in that regard."
Fact is, About a Boyneeds little prompting at all; it's a remarkable work in its own right, a heartwarming bit of cinema at a time when most movies feel cold to the touch. The Weitzes have ripped the guts out of Hornby's novel and given it soul; if the novel was obsessed with Nirvana, the film hums like a Van Morrison song. And it reveals an extraordinary evolution: Where their earlier films--they wrote Antz before shooting American Pieand The Nutty Professor II: The Klumpsafterward--suggest workmanlike skill, their newest work was rendered with considerable care and compassion. Billy Wilder--who was a client of their grandfather, agent Paul Kohner--would be proud; the brothers have built their own Apartment, a comedy populated by a suicidal woman, played by The Sixth Sense's Toni Collette.
"We just wanted to do something where the tone was balanced between cynicism and hopefulness," Chris says. "Will's situation--I mean, inventing a child to meet women--was such a Wilder premise, it just leapt out at you."