“Based on a true story” can be such a limiting phrase: stick too closely to the source material and the result can lack the necessary drama. On face value, that shouldn’t be a problem for this tale about busy father Joe Warr (Clive Owen), who suddenly loses his wife and has to bring up his son alone. The duo’s lives are then complicated further by the arrival of another son from Warr’s first marriage. To get around the initial difficulties, Owen’s character comes to rely on the phrase, “Just say yes”, a system that connects with the film’s background motif of Peter Pan and his lost boys. It’s a practice Simon Carr, who wrote the source novel based on his own experiences, describes as “free-range parenting”.
All of which sounds like the perfect premise for an engaging movie. It’s a shame, then, that the trio’s messy, playful lives aren’t enough to delight completely. There are few hurdles to overcome and what little drama they do endure is barely enough to upset their lack of routine.
So it’s left to the performances to carry things through, and it’s here that the film really shines. Owen wisely spent time getting to know the boys before any filming began and that preparation pays off in buckets and spades, as their unusual family unit is blessed with a sincerity that elevates the film above its schmaltzy nature.
Bonus features can lift things further, so the tiny extras list is, at first glance, a disappointment. That makes the surprise of the photo-montage footage all the more enjoyable. Mixing the official on-set photography with a voiceover by Scott Hicks creates a satisfying take on the Making Of format, as the director attaches interesting anecdotes to every image to give a real insider feel. The bite-sized featurette shows the day Carr’s two real sons met the actors playing them. As the two fictional characters are recognised and accepted by their real-world selves, it’s left to the excellent casting to show the upside of that “true story” tag.
Shine director Hicks channels some of that film’s emotion and character, but the lack of drama here holds these boys back.