Clive Owen shoots from the heart rather than a pistol in the new Scott Hicks film,The Boys Are Back, an adaptation of Simon Carr's memoirThe Boys Are Back in Town(2001), which looks at the challenges men face as parents. Apparently this film has been eight years in the making, although Hicks and Owen were involved from the beginning.
Joe Warr (Owen) is a sports journalist, who returns from England to find his wife Katy (Laura Fraser) in ill health. It's not too far into the film before there's a funeral. He is then left with a difficult triumvirate of a demanding job, a spirited six-year-old son, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty), and having no idea of how to parent.
He tries, fails, and soon adopts the creed of "Just Say Yes". If Artie wants to dive-bomb into a spa bath, take his bike through the house, or ride on the bonnet of a car, Joe's response is to go along for the ride. And soon he is regressing into his childhood.
It's when his son, Harry (George MacKay), from a previous marriage in England, wants to join him, and a local single mother, Laura (Emma Booth), comes into his life, as well as the constant battle to juggle the emotions of mother-in-law Barbara, that his novel approach to parenthood comes under the spotlight.
It's family melodrama, and in the hands of a younger director, this story could easily turn to treacle. Yet, somehow it manages to avoid clichés. The mother-in-law, Barbara, so well played by Julia Blake, is real and sympathetic; the performance of Laura Fraser as Katy is very warm (try picking her real accent; she's a Scot not an Aussie), and even in her short role does plenty. And the "performance" of McAnulty is amazing. According to Hicks, they wanted a child actor who didn't act, and this kiddie is a natural. And George Mackay is a child actor whocanact, and does it well.
Much has been made of Emma Booth's rising star, and it is warranted, although a little hyped. Clive Owen looks as though he's in cruise control, but maybe it's because he doesn't have a shoot-out to drive him. But fans will love him, and his performance is true.
A lesser director would have grabbed for the heart strings and schmaltz, whereas Hicks goes for a natural pace and teases them gradually. And Greig Fraser's photography is stunning. South Australia has never looked so good, as in so many films this year. It really has stolen the march on other states.
The Boys Are Backis a lovely film which brings out the natural humour and faults of its characters. There is no preaching here; this movie has a warm heart and while the edges are soft, they are not dull at all. And you will find your heart strings tingling before you know it.