Farrell plays a charming ne'er-do-well named Bobby who unwittingly manages to get damn near everyone to fall in love with him. That's hardly a stretch for the actor, except that, unlike in real life, we don't see him constantly drinking and smoking. Pot and acid, on the other hand, are in abundance, introduced to 9-year-old Bobby (Andrew Chalmers) in 1967 by his older brother, Carlton (Ryan Donawho). In the film's first instance of Friday the 13th-style karmic punishments, the fornicating, drug-abusing Carlton meets with a sudden, brutal and laughable death.
In high school, Bobby (now played by Erik Smith, whose likeness to Farrell is downright creepy), seemingly imbued with Carlton's rebel spirit, introduces the thrill of drugs to a brace-faced nervous Nellie named Jonathan (Harris Allan). They smoke pot together, listen to records, hang out in graveyards, and, you know, give each other hand jobs under the covers.
Then comes the next karmic sexual punishment: While they're busy with said handiwork, Bobby's dad dies. Bobby, who apparently has no other family (his mother has already departed off-camera), moves in with Jonathan and his parents (Sissy Spacek and Matt Frewer).
And then it's 1982. Bobby has finally become Colin Farrell, and the parents are moving to Arizona. They don't let Bobby come with them, so he heads instead to New York City, where Jonathan (newcomer Dallas Roberts), who has come out of the closet, is living the wild life with wacky roommate Clare (Robin Wright Penn). Clare is literally a mad hatter -- she's slightly nuts and she designs headwear.
If you've seen the film's trailer, you know that Bobby and Clare are gonna get it on. And that's where things get complicated. See, Clare's in love with Jonathan and wants to bear his child, but Jonathan is 100 percent gay. Bobby falls for Clare, but Jonathan's in love with Bobby and channels his frustration into numerous anonymous encounters.
Screenwriter Michael Cunningham, adapting his own novel, doesn't seem to think anyone's going to end up terribly happy, but at least there's more levity here than in the last big-screen rendition of his work, the lugubrious chick flick from hell known as The Hours. Making his screenwriting debut, Cunningham is surprisingly efficient and ruthless in his adaptation, even eliminating a major character, Jonathan's AIDS-stricken lover, Erich.
Cunningham has also excised most of the book's chapters about how confining motherhood is. (There was enough of that in The Hours anyhow.) Director Michael Mayer (also making his feature-film debut) smartly minimizes explanations and lets the actors do the work of conveying -- a task they handle quite well.