I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I saw The Boys Are Back, a new film based on the memoirs of writer Simon Carr. From the looks of the trailer, it stars the handsome Clive Owen as a bereaved father trying to navigate parenthood on his own, which sounds endearing but only vaguely engrossing. What I found, though, was a much more complex story about love, loss, and making the best of a tragic situation.
Joe Warr is a sports journalist with a successful career, a beautiful wife named Katy (Fraser), and an adorable young son. His life is shattered, however, when Katy succumbs to her battle with cancer. Barely able to handle his own grief, he must also take over the sole responsibility of parenting, something he has little practice with due to his demanding job. New to the world of rules and discipline, Joe decides to adopt a more relaxed attitude and a mantra of "just say yes." This works (sort of) for a while, allowing him to reconnect with his precocious son Artie. Things slowly start to unravel, however, as the demands of parenthood, his career, and his strained relationships begin to overwhelm him, particularly after the arrival of Harry, his son from his first marriage.
To further complicate matters, Joe isn't always an easy character to like. We soon learn that he fell in love with Katy and got her pregnant while still married to Flick, Harry's mother, and consequently left them both. After Katy's death, he befriends Laura (Booth), a single mother of one of Artie's classmates, but soon he's taking advantage of her kind nature and expecting her constant help, oblivious to the fact that she is developing feelings for him. Throughout the film, Joe grapples with poor decision-making that is a direct result of inexperience along with a vague sense of selfishness. What keeps the audience rooting for him is how painfully aware he is of his shortcomings and that he appears to be genuinely sorry for the mistakes he has made. His desperate attempts to build a solid life with both his sons while putting his own feelings of loss on the back burner give him a much needed air of grace and redemption.
The Boys Are Back is an enjoyable story, and Clive Owen is perfect as the flawed but persistent and loving Joe. The film was beautifully shot within the lush backdrop of South Australia and is accompanied by an understated but appropriately bittersweet score. Academy Award nominated director Scott Hicks (No Reservations, Shine) keeps the story from falling into cheesy, Hallmark-inspired territory by injecting each scene with a gritty realism that keeps the audience engaged throughout the film. The result is not only a gentle lesson in responsibility, but also in learning to let go and enjoy the time we have with those we love, occasionally embracing life with the innocent enthusiasm of a child.