The Boys Are Back
2009, PG-13, 104 min. Directed by Scott Hicks. Starring Clive Owen, Laura Fraser, George MacKay, Emma Booth, Nicholas McAnulty, Julia Blake.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 2, 2009
Were it not for the lovely performances, this movie about a widower who learns to become a hands-on parent to his two young sons would be treacly stuff indeed. As the bereaved father Joe Warr, Owen turns in a nicely calibrated performance as he learns to move on from his grief and take an active role in the lives of his motherless child, Artie (McAnulty), and his teenage son from a previous marriage, Harry (MacKay), who picks an inopportune time to decide that he might prefer to live with his father rather than his mother back in England. It’s the children’s performances that impress almost more than Owen’s, however, with McAnulty in particular maintaining an unschooled naturalism that counterbalances his cuteness. Although the movie is inspired by a memoir by Simon Carr, the plot follows a fairly routine outline as the all-male household gropes its way toward equilibrium. Joe adopts a parenting philosophy that boils down to “just say yes,” which is spelled out on the refrigerator door with alphabet magnets. The house is messy and chaotic, and Joe’s work as a sportswriter makes difficult demands on his time. Joe says yes to such things as allowing Artie to ride on the hood of the car as he drives the vehicle at top speed along the beach while alarmist do-gooders holler at him to stop. The women in Joe’s life all belong to this meddlesome category. His mother-in-law (Blake) engages in a battle of wills with Joe for control of her grandson’s life; Laura (Booth), the mother of a classmate of Artie's, is interested in Joe until she realizes that the man needs a housekeeper more than a love interest; Joe’s ex-wife (Emma Lung) is, of course, exactly what ex-wives always are in the movies. Only Joe’s dear departed wife, Katy (Fraser), who appears to him in visions, is exempt from the woman-as-spoilsport portrayal. Director Hicks (Shine) is expert at blending pathos with human drama, and the tears will definitely trickle from your eyes. It’s distinguishing the trickle from the treacle that becomes the problem.