''High Fidelity'' was one of those rare adaptations that actually lived up to its source, Nick Hornby's 1995 novel about music geeks secure only in their relationships with tunes. Hornby's next book, About a Boy, was another deft comedy that seemed perfectly suited for the big screen, and it turns out the movie does the book one better.
Hugh Grant fills Hornby's description of a well-clad emotional loser with tender ease. Gone is the actor's befuddled-fop routine. As a 38-year-old who lives off the royalties of his songwriter father's novelty hit, Grant inhabits a nest of self-loathing. His Will is a slouch who divides his days into disposable half-hour increments. A hilariously lame attempt to meet women lands him instead with a single mum's dorky kid. Marcus (the utterly endearing Nicholas Hoult) has been badly beaten up, both by his mother's recent suicide attempt and by bullies at school. When he starts coming round Will's flat, uninvited, to watch TV, the two develop a sweet, enviable dependence on one another. A delight from start to finish, the movie rides on Grant's winningly slumped shoulders. Who knew that playing an overgrown boy would bring out the man?