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Director Hanson sees himself in 'Wonder Boys'

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 25, 2000
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Curtis Hanson's directorial career is reflected in his new film "Wonder Boys," as it blurs the line between art and life.

The film, Hanson's first since his 1997 neo-noir masterpiece "L.A. Confidential," depicts the life of main character Grady Tripp, a washed-up writer played by Michael Douglas.

It has been seven years since the debut of Tripp's highly successful, critically lauded first novel, "The Arsonist's Daughter." Now he is experiencing the curse of the sophomore slump, worried that he will not be able to live up to the genius of his first opus.

It is then no surprise that Hanson finds this material appealing. Clearly, he is dealing with many of the same issues as his hero Tripp.

"L.A. Confidential" remains one of the most highly acclaimed films in the last few years.

The film garnered nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. It is ranked No. 32 on Internet Movie Database's Top 250 Films, a site where more people than the select few in the Academy make the decision.

Hanson was then faced with the impossible task of matching the brilliance of his last film.

His solution was typical Hollywood strategy - after you do something big, do something small.

"Wonder Boys" has a distinctly small and intimate feel, unlike the harder edge of "Confidential." As far as subject matter, Hanson makes a complete departure.

The noir aspect of "Confidential" made for a serious, heavy tone.

"Wonder Boys," however, is light-hearted, infused with moments of hilarity among its darker themes. Hanson proves that as a director he has a broad range that encompasses both drama and comedy.

His gift lies in his ability to poignantly represent human relationships whether between a detective, a Veronica Lake look-alike hooker, a blocked writer or his macabre, eccentric student - a character played to perfection by Tobey Maguire.

As a result of Hanson's uncanny ability to connect and convey the human aspect to any story, he routinely shaped impressive performances from each of his actors. He won Kim Basinger an Oscar. He even makes Katie Holmes rise above her "Dawson's Creek" status.

"Wonder Boys" has little reason to worry about comparisons to "Confidential." It is far too different for that. Hanson has little reason to worry that he is himself only a wonder boy - he is far too talented for that.

"Wonder Boys" opens in theaters today.

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