The Oscar nominated director Scott Hicks returns to the world of fictional filmmaking for the first time since 2007’s No Reservations (he stopped off in documentary land in 08 with Glass) with The Boys Are Back, another small scale domestic drama that works well despite a few inherent problems. This based-upon-a-true-story fairytale stars the always suave Clive Owen as a suddenly widowed single parent who tries to navigate through his new waters with a laissez faire approach to raising children.

And the fact that it ends up being a warm hearted, effective film is nothing to sniff at because in less accomplished hands this could have very easily been turned into a miserable seminar on how to be the perfect dad. Hicks, though, is a skilled director and knows how to take this rather bland story and whip into an intelligent character study about one man’s discovery that the world of fatherhood has no easy answers. As the film opens Joe (Owen) is living in marital bliss with his wife, but, as we all know, she quickly gets the cancer and drops dead leaving him to pick up the pieces and raise their son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty).

Joe figures the best strategy here is to employ the overly simplistic “Just say yes” approach which leads to a good kind of anarchy in the house. Soon his other son Harry (George MacKay) from a previous marriage joins the mix but he has been raised by his strict, humorless mother so he himself is something of a wet blanket and not exactly down with all this freedom. Things move along swimmingly until Joe is forced to attend the Australian Open for his job and can’t find anybody to watch the kids for him. First he turns to his mother-in-law but she waffles mainly because she’s still butt hurt over not being allowed to raise Artie on her own. Then he asks his friend and potential love interest Laura (Emma Booth) but she feels taken advantage of and scolds him for being lazy and irresponsible. Left with no other option he has to leave the boys on their own and the end result is less than ideal.

There is an almost crippling softness at work here, these characters seemingly always make the right decision and never have to really face the consequences for anything. Where exactly are the conflicts? Well there are a few poorly timed temper tantrums and that hunt for a babysitter but mostly there are just the females that populate Joe’s life. Surely feminist theory professors the world over have already Blacklisted this one. The main villain, if we can call her that, is the mother in law who is constantly trying to commandeer the raising of her grandson. Beyond that there are the uptight mothers who wag their finger at Joe and his ways and his ex-wife, who is a rather unpleasant wench who has a criticism for every step he takes. But luckily this film doesn’t need conventional conflicts to work and assuming you can get past its negative view of females then you can appreciate the way that it digs into the messiness of life and realizes that no matter what steps you take you are always in danger of stumbling into a pitfall.

There are a few other minor complaints that must be logged, namely a flat visual feel and a big loose end that involves Joe’s endangered career. It could also be said that this “just say yes” philosophy which is being advanced here is a little reckless, after all who is going to endorse the idea of bending over every time your child wants something. But it is a far healthier idea than that which is believed by these disciplinarian parents who pump out kids who have only learned to worship authority over autonomy. More than anything though it serves as a stark reminder to anybody out thinking about reproducing that just because you are filled with good intentions doesn’t mean that you will succeed as a parent.

DVD Special Features:

Sparse extras comprise a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it featurette during which Simon Carr’s sons make a brief visit to the London set. Also included is a sixteen-minute montage of a production photo gallery with optional narration by director Scott Hicks. Hicks is clearly an intelligent and articulate filmmaker and his brief insights only make you wish they had sprung for a full commentary track on the feature.

Starring: Clive Owen, Emma Booth, George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty
Director: Scott Hicks
Runtime: 104 minutes
Rated: PG 13

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