Friday, October 2, 2009
Single dad coping with a young son and the recent death of his wife from cancer… hmmm? Sounds like it could be painful in more ways than one but “The Boys are Back” (opening October 2 at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas) surprised me... a little.
Okay I think I’ve been pretty up front about romances and touchy-feely films not being my cup of tea. “King Kong” and “Shaun of the Dead” are my favorite romances and “King Lear” is my idea of family drama. But I have to say that the Australian backdrop and the even more attractive Clive Owen helped to lift “The Boys are Back” to at least a tolerable level for me.
Clive Owen plays Joe Warr, a sports writer working in Australia. When the film opens, his wife has already died and he surveys the chaos of a life without her. The house is a mess, his young son -- along with a teenage son from a former marriage - are running wild, and he’s trying to juggle a demanding job with family life. He meets the challenge with a simple philosophy: “Just say yes.” No rules, no boundaries. Maybe, he thinks, that will be the way to combat the grief and restore a sense of joy in their lives.
While most Hollywood films and many actors would play up the sentiment of the story, tugging on heart strings, Owen plays Warr in a very straightforward, no nonsense manner, as if this were a story about a sports writer and not a suddenly single dad grieving over a dead wife. The difference in tone makes the film more palatable. He's ably supported by the two young actors playing his sons: George MacKay and Nicholas McAnulty. McAnulty at first makes the youngest son seems a bit autistic in the way he barely reacts to his mother's illness and the way he seems withdrawn into his own world. He plays the role with easy naturalism while MacKay as the rebellious teen delivers a quietly impressive performance.
But the film still suffers from a certain lack of focus. Scott Hicks, who’s probably best known for directing “Shine” and the enigmatic “Snow Falling on Cedars,” isn’t quite clear on whether Warr is successful in his child-rearing approach or not. We have no doubt that Warr loves his kids and that his love makes his male only family unit strong. His “just say yes,” policy is only tepidly challenged by an interested mom yet is not really held up as a roaring success by the director or even by Warr. On a certain level the “just say yes” approach seems to be the point of the whole film yet Hicks isn’t very enthusiastic about championing it once Warr throws the idea out there. The film seems to have the same casual attitude that Warr has, just taking what comes and not thinking much about it.
“The Boys are Back” (rated PG-13 for some sexual language and thematic elements) is essentially a soaper but one with a high caliber cast that makes it all play out on a more realistic level. It seems that in recent weeks I have been plagued with films that are not necessarily bad but which simply don't inspire me. So "The Boys are Back" joins "Coco Before Chanel" and "Bright Star" as well acted, handsomely produced films that leave me a bit cold.