A sun-soaked paean to uninhibited, hands-off, motherless parenting, where the golden rule is ‘Just say yes’, The Boys Are Back will either hearten single fathers everywhere or make them cringe.
Starring Clive Owen at his most lovably craggy, Scott Hicks’ film suggests that the nearer your sons come to breaking their fool necks, the better you are as a dad.
The story’s adapted from a memoir by British ex-pat journalist Simon Carr, whose second wife – like the second wife of Owen’s Joe Warr, his surrogate in the film – died of cancer, leaving him with a small son, plus a teenage son from his irst marriage, and scant idea how to go about bringing them up.
Carr’s a political journalist, but the film makes Warr a sports writer, just for the added testosterone. And indeed, in the very opening scene, he’s careering along a crowded Aussie beach at the wheel of an SUV, with his seven-year-old son Artie perched on the bonnet squealing with excitement.
Liberated, ‘free-range’ dad or irresponsible idiot? Small doubt which side Hicks (Shine) and his screenwriter, Allan Cubitt, come down on. Despite a few hiccups – cutting the crust off Artie’s toast (which seems to upset the kid more than the death of his mum), leaving Artie and his half-bro home alone for a couple of days, during which some beach-kids crash and trash the house – by the final reel Joe has converted even his disapproving mother-in-law to his permissive, outward-bound style of parenting. Though he does have the help of dead wife Katy (Laura Fraser), who usefully materialises now and then to offer words of comfort and advice.
Golden sunlight bathes scenes set in Australia, while episodes in England (where Joe’s first wife lives) are grey and rain-sodden. Oversimpliication? You bet. But the film’s sheer dumb gusto and Clive Owen’s appealingly vulnerable performance might just persuade you otherwise.
Often touching, more often infuriating account of an ex-pat Brit journo in Oz exploring the how-to of father-son bonding. But even if you’re grinding your teeth, the film’s brash exuberance and its lead actor will keep you watching.