There are touching moments among the clichés, says Brenda McCormick
Based on a true story and directed by Shine's Scott Hicks, The Boys Are Back stars Clive Owen as Joe, an English sportswriter living in Australia with his second wife (Fraser) and their mop-headed son Artie (McAnulty). Joe's often away for work so while he loves six-year-old Artie, he's not a huge part of his day-to-day life. When Joe's wife dies, his desperate and unconventional attempts at parenting annoy his grieving mother-in-law, and a total lack of discipline threatens to let Artie run wild.
At first, things don't look too promising. After the required sun-kissed flashback montage of happy times with the perfect family in idyllic Australia, we have the sudden illness and tragic death of Joe's wife.
And it's all so contrived, so emotionally manipulative that it seems the entire film is going to be more of the same. But at some point it settles into its own groove and becomes a surprisingly warm and enjoyable film.
When his wife dies, Joe calls his ex in London to tell her the news and his teenage son Harry (MacKay) answers. The touching moment when a son awkwardly tries to comfort his dad, and Owen crumples silently, is the first indication that the film may have more heart than first thought. It's the little, natural moments that are the most affecting here, and there are plenty of them among the clichés.
The soundtrack (more Sigur Rós and Ray LaMontagne than the Thin Lizzy suggested by the title) and the location, the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide, are beautiful, nicely lending themselves to the story as the boys slowly get over their loss and grow a new life for themselves.
As Joe and Archie try to adapt to their new reality, Harry comes to visit from London, bringing with him his own problems and changing the dynamic in the house. Both young actors do a great job and Owen manages to be charming and genuine as a man somewhat desperately clutching at ways to heal his sons.
Much better than expected, thanks to the three male leads, The Boys Are Back is a nice take on a familiar genre but falls short of being one of those films that stays with you (although you might want to move to Australia after seeing it!). HHHII