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Based on Nick Hornby`s best-selling novel, About A Boy is the story of a cynical, immature young man who is taught how to act like a grown-up by a little boy.
Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) lives a very comfortable and leisurely lifestyle in London thanks to substantial royalties left to him from the successful Christmas song that his father composed. Will does not need to work and spends most of his free time watching television, and reading about pop culture. When Will`s friends, Christine (Sharon Small) and John (Nicholas Hutchinson), ask him to be the godfather of their second child, Will bluntly refuses, insisting that he "really is that shallow". In an attempt to avoid spending time with the couple, Will meets Angie (Isabel Brook), a single mother, but the two only share a brief relationship which, to Will`s surprise actually ends amicably. Afterward, Will comes up with the idea of attending a single-parents group called "SPAT" (Single Parents Alone Together) to meet potential female partners. As part of his ploy, he claims to have a two-year-old son named Ned. His plan succeeds and he meets Suzie (Victoria Smurfit).
Will`s pursuit to court Suzie takes him to one of the group`s functions a picnic where he meets Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), the 12-year-old son of Suzie`s friend, Fiona (Toni Collette). At the picnic, Marcus accidentally kills a duck with a stale loaf of bread while trying to feed it. When a park keeper questions him about it, Will quickly defends Marcus by claiming the duck was already dead. Afterward, when Will and Suzie take Marcus home, they find Fiona in the living room, overdosed on pills in a suicide attempt. Marcus begins to be uncomfortable with staying at home alone with his mother, so he tries to get Will to date her so she won`t be so lonely. After a single date this plan fails so Marcus follows Will around and discovers that Will is actually childless and had been faking being a single parent. Marcus then appears on Will`s doorstep and blackmails him into letting him hang out at his apartment after school every day instead of going straight home.
Will is initially against Marcus spending time at his place, but when Marcus is chased there one day by bullies Will begins to realize the importance of his presence in Marcus`s life. He starts helping Marcus fit in by taking him shopping for new shoes. Unfortunately, the shoes are stolen by bullies, causing a fight among Marcus, Fiona, and Will. At school, Marcus develops a crush on a grunge girl named Ellie (Natalia Tena), and his popularity steadily improves. Will begins a relationship with a single mother named Rachel (Rachel Weisz). Will lets Rachel believe that Marcus is his son in order to appear interesting to her. Later, in an attempt to be honest with her, he reveals that Marcus is not really his son, but his lie backfires and their relationship ends.
One day, Marcus comes home from school to find his mother crying in the living room. Marcus attempts to unburden himself to Will, who is unreceptive, as he is still upset about the breakup with Rachel. Will tells Marcus that he can`t help him and the two have a fight. Marcus decides that the only way to help his mother is to sing at the school variety show - an act which Ellie deems "social suicide", warning that the other children will crucify him. Will continues his superficial existence, but realises that it doesn`t fulfill him the way it did before. Will crashes a SPAT meeting and implores Fiona not to attempt suicide again. She assures him that she has no plans to do so in the immediate future and also tells him that Marcus has decided to sing at the school show that day.
Will and Fiona rush to the school to stop Marcus from committing social suicide, and Will finds Rachel in the school audience watching her son in the show. Will makes his way backstage to stop Marcus from singing, but Marcus is unswayed and believes that his singing will make his mother happy. Marcus proceeds to sing a shrill, out-of-tune rendition of "Killing Me Softly with His Song" as the student body taunts him. Suddenly, Will appears onstage with a guitar to accompany Marcus for the rest of the song. With Will`s assistance, the school children accept Marcus`s performance, giving him mild applause at the end. Seeing this, Will continues on with an unnecessary solo to take the negative attention off Marcus.
The following Christmas, Will hosts a celebration at his place where Marcus, Rachel, Rachel`s son Ali, Fiona and Ellie are present. The idea of Will marrying Rachel is brought up, but Marcus seems unenthusiastic, believing that couples have no future without "backup" to their relationships.