The Boys are Back (Miramax, PG-13)

film_boys-are-back_sm.gifDespite some fine acting by the cast and luscious art house cinematography by Greig Fraser, the story never really comes alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beautiful Australian landscapes and Clive Owen’s cleft chin are on full display in The Boys are Back, Scott Hicks’s new film based on a memoir by journalist Simon Carr. Too bad the storytelling’s not better. The screenplay by Alan Cubitt reduces the complexities of human relationships to a series of aphorisms and sitcom-like scenes, each of which is carefully designed to teach a lesson or establish a plot point.

Despite some fine acting by the cast and luscious art house cinematography by Greig Fraser, the story never really comes alive, in large part because the film signals us from the beginning that the story will remain within carefully defined boundaries. Which is to say there’s no tension, because it’s clear that nothing really bad will ever happen. So kids can do cannonballs into a shallow hot tub and dads can commit journalistic fraud (the kind of thing which got Jayson Blair banned from the profession), but you know from the start there won’t be any consequences because that would interfere with the uplifting tale Hicks so desperately wants to spin. Some people enjoy this sort of thing but it just left me with a bad case of warm fuzzies overload.

Things start out promisingly enough. Joe Warr (Clive Owen) is a jet-setting sport journalist with a beautiful wife (Laura Fraser), loving friends and in-laws, and a charming son (Nicholas McAnulty). They live in a tropical paradise and go to gallery openings. This lifestyle porn is followed by grief porn as his wife dies of cancer — and that’s only about 10 minutes into the film. Joe decides to assume the responsibility of caring for his son and finds that not only is it a lot harder than he expected, but that childcare responsibilities interfere with his professional life. At this point all the mothers in the audience will be rolling their eyes: How come it becomes heroic when a man does it?

Joe’s teenage son from a previous marriage comes to visit, which adds another layer of complications to their all-male household. Women are allowed in while they are useful, as when they’re providing free childcare services or emotional support, but they’re such a drag with their rules and concerns about safety which cramp the guys’ style. It’s almost like a tree house with a "NO GIRLS ALLOWED" sign. The film pounds quite unnecessarily on the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" thing, but not having read the book I can’t say if it’s intrinsic to the material or something tacked on to the screenplay.

Despite the stereotypes and simplistic presentation, I was actually doing OK with this film until it completely lost me by having the characters suddenly turn up in England. My guess is that length became a concern so the transitional scenes were cut. From that point onward, the film accelerates improbably to a conclusion which you have probably already guessed by now.

If you’re a person who goes to movies to have your emotional buttons pushed, you may like The Boys are Back better than I did. The acting is uniformly good and the cinematography shows off South Australia at its best (I met a Brit once who said that they should have made the convicts stay convicts in England and let everyone else move to Australia, and this film may convince you of the merits of that judgment); in fact the technical package is excellent all around. But the overall impression it left me with was that of a really expensive Lifetime movie for men. | Sarah Boslaugh

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