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The Boys Are Back is a confessional tale of fatherhood. It follows a witty, wisecracking, action-oriented sportswriter who, in the wake of his wife's death, finds himself in a sudden, stultifying state of single parenthood. Joe Warr throws himself into the only child-rearing philosophy he thinks has a shot at bringing joy back into their lives: "just says yes." Raising two boys - a curious six year-old and a rebel teen from a previous marriage -- in a household devoid of feminine influence, and with a lack of rules, life becomes exuberant, instinctual, reckless... and on the constant verge of disaster. The three multi-generational boys of the Warr household, father and sons alike, must each find their own way, however tenuous, to grow up.Written by
At the heart of the story is the character of source novelist Simon Carr himself and re-named Joe Warr. "He's such a larger than life, outrageous, intentionally contentious and provocative, charming, seductive guy that we felt that his spirit and essence would make for an unforgettable lead character," said producer Greg Brenman. See more »
I don't know whether you've ever seen a map of a person's mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting. But catch them trying to draw a map of a child's mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There is zig-zag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card. And these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always, more or less, an island.
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In The Boys Are Back, a film based on the memoir by Simon Carr of the British newspaper the Independent, is about a character named Joe, a sportswriter who has a five year old boy living with his mother in southern Australia. Joe is away from home often and mostly sees the boy, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) on holidays or the few times he can get away. He loves his wife (Laura Fraser) and kid a great deal, and his life, as they say in the movies, is turned upside down by his wife's passing from cancer. Suddenly he finds himself with Artie 24/7, a boy who doesn't grasp what has happened fully with his mother's death (Artie, rambunctious but not annoying, asks Joe at one point if he can die so he can be with his mother again). On top of this for Joe is his teenaged son Harry, (MacKay) from a previous marriage, who comes to visit and adds another to his juggling of being a single-father-widower and top sports writer.
There's other things that sort of 'happen' to Joe as well in the film, such as a friendship (but not quite romance, thank goodness for us hoping for a lack of contrivance) with a single mom (Emma Booth). And it happen in a fairly realistic context of sudden grief that Joe has while taking care of his small boy, which he's never had to really take charge of before (we get the sense he left most of the child rearing with both of his sons to their respective mothers), and as a easy-going but firm parent has a philosophy of "just say yes", meaning anything goes, except when he says so.
His source material is a memoir by Simon Carr, which was more just a collection of musings and thoughts and little anecdotes as a single father as opposed to a coherent narrative. But what unfolds is just simply this story, more of a character study, about parenthood and the nature of a father-son bond that mostly the director Scott Hicks takes without too much sentimentality. He and his screenwriter accomplish at best something we don't see too often in movies: a sympathetic man, a father in a tough situation, and a little boy who seems simple enough but has his own complexities and nuances (McAnulty is great at getting the exuberance and frustration of a six year old, particularly one without a mother, and is never less than genuine). And then when Harry is thrown into the mix then the complex relationship builds as it becomes a father-son-brother story, with scenes that reveal how little of a bond there really is between Joe and Harry, and how they both know it needs to change now or never.
Another thing one must commend upon is Clive Owen, who is perhaps the paramount reason to see the film. It's a minor revelation after years of awesome action films (Shoot em Up) and thrillers (Duplicity) to see the guy get so much in touch with a torn and frayed character like Joe. For one thing, we see him cry, but its only in two crucial scenes, one of them while on a telephone with Harry as he greatly holds back tears when asked if anything is wrong, then later on in the other scene having his sob in the middle of a grassy field. It sounds like a character that could lead to some cliché- a tough no-nonsense sometimes-drinker sportswriter who has to put up with two kids- but Owen makes Joe fascinating to watch at every turn. Especially since, frankly, it's also equally impossible along with the crying to picture Owen acting so well off of McAnulty, who has had relatively little experience. Watching the two of them together go back and forth, and then later on as well with Owen and MacKay, is the heart of the picture.
The film is crafted with a lack of cynicism, with an eye for the way family works in times of trouble, and as well for luscious vistas from down under in Hicks' own home areas of south Australia. But there are a few things that keep The Boys Are Back from being a must see. There is a guitar score by Hal Lindes that pops up with an irritating precision, much akin to something like Brokeback Mountain, where we're made to suddenly feel something be it in a montage or a simple cut-away, and it becomes old-hat pretty quickly as the only significant orchestration. Also, a plot device that should work more but doesn't: Joe's wife appears several times in the film as a sort of ghost or just presence of comfort to give some advice or listen to Joe's own fears, and its just hokey, especially when we're told that it's not only Joe but his mother-in-law seeing her daughter, and at the end giving Joe a piece of encouragement regarding a convertible that had me roll my eyes. It's a shame, since everything else around those flaws make up some of the finest non-sentimental familial-drama scenes I've seen this year. 7.5/10
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