David Nicholls’ bestselling novel may have been recommended by Richard and Judy’s book club, but don’t let that fact put you off this delightful rites-of-passage comedy, part About A Boy , part The Breakfast Club. Though it totes the requisite chick-lit staples for Madeley and missus (friendship betrayal, romantic epiphany, last-minute dash for love) and falls a little short of completely evoking the mid-’80s, there’s enough real magic at work here to make even the most cynical viewer beam.
It could be any number of things that induce the feelgood factor. Maybe it’s Nicholls’ droll script, managing to be both bittersweet and specifically British without resorting to the Working Title template. Or the giddy soundtrack, loaded with nostalgic greats from Wham! to The Cure, instantly transporting anyone over the age of 30 back to their formative years. Charles Dance’s nude cameo (in impressive shape) certainly scores points, as does Mark Gatiss’ spookily accurate impersonation of University Challenge presenter Bamber Gascoigne. And daughters of luvvies Eve (offspring of actor Trevor) and Molly Ringwald-alike Hall (spawn of director Peter), do sterling work in fleshing out the two chalk’n’cheese love rivals, making romantic decisions as hard for the audience as they are for Brian.
But the pumping heart of the film is McAvoy, with a winning performance that ably justifies the Rising Star Award lumbered on him by BAFTA. Looking like Harry Potter with a mullet, Brian is a pint-sized nerd who really shouldn’t work as a credible romantic lead, but when the former Shameless man plays him with such convincingly gauche charm, it’s impossible not to fall for him. Try not to squirm as he awkwardly attempts to impress at his first student party, or choke as he makes a Reservoir Dogs-esque slow-mo walk towards his TV destiny. You may only know him to date as the foppish faun Mister Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, but the subtlety he displays here in a scene where he accidentally cries during a first date is nothing short of heartbreaking. Enough fawning. This is a winner.