About this time of year you have two types of films at the cinema: Oscar Bait and Left Overs. The first is self-explanatory, the latter is a reference to film distributors releasing their “What the hell do we do with this?” selection between the drama filled fall/winter season and the heavyweight blockbusters of summer.
The Boys Are Back is the Oscar Bait. Joe Warr (Clive Owen) has recently lost his wife, Katy (Laura Fraser), to cancer. In the wake of her death, Joe must navigate his relationship with his six-year old son, Artie, and Harry, his son from a previous marriage.
Adapted from Simon Carr’s memoir The Boys Are Back In Town, this tale of a single father juggling home life and his career avoids gender clichés reminiscent of Mr. Mom. Intriguing is Joe’s “just say yes” parenting style. In Joe’s house, basic rules such as no swearing, no real fighting, etc. are in place, but Joe drives his 4×4 on the beach with Artie on the hood, sonorous with glee. He even has water balloon fights – brace yourself – in the house! If anything, the film’s representation of child rearing that encourages dangerous fun and large doses of freedom makes it worth a viewing.
Further, as there have been few dramas, but plenty comedies, that focus on male single parents, the film is important for showing male homosocial relationships.*
The unfortunate part of the film is how many relationships are juggled. Joe is dealing with grief, Artie, and then Harry. One or even two of these alone could fill a film, but throw in that third ingredient and the film produces so-so results. Knowing that the film is an adaptation of a book puts this in perspective, as it is definitely structured in a free-flowing way. By the end you’re not really sure if Joe has really learned anything about his sons or even about himself.
The big pull for this film (if you didn’t figure it out by the film’s poster) is Clive Owen’s star power. Even I’ll admit, as a fan of Sin City and Children of Men, Owen’s involvement is what pulled me to The Boys Are Back. Many have stated that Owen’s performance is Oscar worthy and if I were the type of person who didn’t loath the Oscars, I’d like to say the same. However, Owen does a good job, but is stymied by the film’s lack of focus.
Like so many films flaunting their accolades from the critics and festivals, this isn’t the best movie out now (I’d recommend The Road or Up In the Air), but it isn’t bad either.
*The only other films about male single parents that I can think of include Jersey Girl (2004), Evelyn (2002), and even The Road counts, but isn’t light like the others.