The Boys Are Back

The Boys Are Back


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"So here we are - a father and two sons surviving in a house without women."

When Katy Warr (Laura Fraser) dies of cancer, she leaves behind loving husband Joe (Clive Owen) and their five-year-old son Artie (newcomer Nicholas McAnulty). A sportswriter who had previously spent most of his time away from home, Joe is determined to get to know his own son – but clueless in the domestic sphere and still haunted by his wife's ghost, he seeks solace in the bottle (and bottles up his anger), before deciding, in a transformative eureka moment - set, appropriately enough, around a bathtub - to make 'just say yes' the new rule of the house.

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With Joe now more playmate than father to Artie, their once clean abode becomes a 'hog heaven' of piled-up dishes, unwashed clothes and indoor rough-and-tumble. As the two struggle - together alone - with grief, housework and each other, into their lives from England comes Harry (George MacKay), Joe's teenage son from an earlier marriage, who is struggling with his own sense of loss and is desperate to reconnect with his father.

An affecting blend of warm comedy and high pathos, The Boys Are Back brings an unusual all-male perspective to its otherwise familiar themes of domesticity, death and dysfunction. When local single mother (and almost love interest) Laura (Emma Booth) declares to Joe: "You drink too much and you live like a pig," she is only stating the obvious – but this film delves deeper by sticking sympathetically, if unflinchingly, with the porcine point of view. Joe's infantilised attitude of indulgent laissez-faire may seem irresponsible, but we are never left in any doubt that he is trying his best to get his family through a traumatic situation, and that every 'big mistake' he makes is just another step towards honing the imperfect but valuable art of fatherhood.

The characters' names may have been changed, the protagonist may have been transferred from political journalism to the sports desk, and the action may have been relocated from New Zealand to South Australia, but everything else here remains largely faithful to Simon Carr's 2001 memoir of sudden single parenthood, The Boys Are Back In Town (published in 2001). Accordingly, accusations that the film's plot feels occasionally contrived should perhaps be launched less at screenwriter Allan Cubitt than at the clichéd nature of reality. Certainly the performances are well-judged and, for a film so concerned with the raw emotions of loss, refreshingly restrained, with Owen meeting and wilfully evading every problem with dry waggishness.

Lured back to shoot in Australia for the first time since his success with Shine (1996), director Scott Hicks appears to have relished the opportunity, showing his native land in the most flattering light. It is to be wondered, however, if the British backers in this UK/Australian co-production will be so pleased, given the sharp contrast that Hicks draws between the sandy, sunny paradise Down Under, and the rain-filled dreariness of Harry's stifling public school life in England. The story might demand that Harry's dilemma is a choice between mother and father, but one suspects it is really the gaping difference in standards of living that tips the balance for him.

Is a woman's touch necessary for the stable running of a family with children? The Boys Are Back answers with a resounding 'probably' – but it also shows the value of men's contributions to home life, while entertaining us with the colourful chaos of a father and his two boys coming out to play when mum's away.

Reviewed on: 30 Oct 2009
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A wisecracking sportswriter is forced into single parenthood by the tragic death of his wife.
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Director: Scott Hicks

Writer: Allan Cubitt, from a memoir by Simon Carr

Starring: Clive Owen, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser, George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty, Julia Blake, Chris Haywood, Erik Thomson, Natasha Little, Lewis Fitz-Gerald

Year: 2009

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Australia, UK

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