If you’re getting really fed up of January’s dark, cold evenings, you may want to check out Aussie-based family drama The Boys Are Back, an injection of warmth from Shine director Scott Hicks.
Set on the stunning South Australian coast, Hicks directs Clive Owen – here taking a break from the action roles – as Joe Warr, a sports writer left to raise his six-year-old son alone when he loses his young wife to cancer. The film details how Warr, who doesn’t have a clue as to how to bring up a child alone, embraces a parenting philosophy based on saying ‘yes’ to everything, resulting initially in a chaotic and boisterous, Boy’s Own world of fun an adventure for both father and son.
The film is based on the best-selling memoir by journalist Simon Carr, who shared his experiences raising his two young sons after his wife died. The film explores his ‘free range’ approach to parenting with exuberance and a sense of freewheeling fun, as father and son connect on a primitively playful level.
We also see Joe making mistakes, blundering through situations and acting as selfishly as a child when he loses himself in his grief. And, as Joe discovers, he and Artie are both struggling to cope with their loss, and that they can’t solely exist in this Neverland they have created.
This is particularly true when Joe’s teenage son from his first marriage, Harry, (played by Rupert Grint lookalike George Mackay), travels from the UK to come live with them. Harry wrestles with the idea he was abandoned by his dad for a new, better life and Mackay portrays this with just the right amount of adolescent awkwardness and resentment simmering underneath the surface. This is magnified by the increasing presence of attractive single mum Laura on their turf.
As the ‘name’ in the film, Owen will clearly be the big draw for many audiences. And he does a fine job in the role of Joe. However, it is adorable six-year-old Nicholas McAnulty as Joe’s son, Artie, who offers the standout performance. Almost cartoonish in his cuteness, with eyes the size of saucers, McAnulty lights up the screen with both intensity and charming innocence. He handles the big emotional scenes beautifully, yet is also responsible for lightening the mood with some comic lines that could, indeed, have come straight from the lips of a six-year-old boy.
The Boys Are Back is undeniably destined to be popular with a female audience: a handsome, professional man is suddenly widowed and forced to raise his young son alone. However, Sleepless In Seattle it ain’t. Hicks doesn’t offer the romantic Hollywood take on single fatherhood, and it doesn’t go down the obviously comedic route either, as in Jack & Sarah.
On the downside, The Boys Are Back can feel a little disjointed, based, as it is, on a memoir. The film plays out as a series of scenes drawn from memory, mixing heartbreak with comedic moments, and littered with poignant moments.
But there are moments when you are aware of Hicks deliberately tugging at your heart strings – but, actually, you don’t really mind.
The Boys Are Back is a feel good movie with a life-affirming and optimistic message. And set against the expansive beaches, undulating hills and vineyards of the Fleurieu Peninsula, and with a lush soundtrack by Sigur Ros, the film brings more than a touch of warmth to a cold January evening.
The Boys Are Back opens in cinemas today.