The Boys Are Back is a small independent film, shot and set entirely in South Australia, directed by Scott Hicks (who did “Shine”) and starring Clive Owen and all unknowns, including two child actors who were pivotal in the “inspired by a true story” film.
My wife and I went to a preview and had a spirited discussion about it over dinner later. It didn’t help that there was a Q&A afterward with the director and Clive Owen in which my wife was practically drooling. Okay, he is one handsome dude. Plus, he was articulate and gracious. In other words, completely hate-able.
The movie, inspired by a true story and book, is about a dad and his 5-year-old boy that have to learn to cope with the sudden death of their wife and mom, and later cope with life without a woman in the house. For the dad, it means awareness of his complete lack of housekeeping skills and his minimal knowledge about his son, given that his work often took him away from home.
Later, we discover he has a son in England that he abandoned when he got the mother of his youngest child pregnant, apparently while still married to his older son’s mother. When his older son asks to come visit, everything ignites as this dad’s incompetence manifests itself in destructive ways for everyone, though it’s understood his grief is understandably a factor in his actions and mood.
Rather than learn the skills involved with taking care of a home, hiring help, or using his late wife’s mother for advice and counsel, this dad decides to go it on his own. Granted, his mother-in-law is dealing with her own grief over the loss of her daughter and consequently is a bit harsh and judgmental, however right she may be. The result, however, means mostly a lack of structure for the boys, later resulting in some scary incidents.
To the film’s credit and as expressed by both the director and Clive Owen after this screening, they did not go for the simplistic emotional answers and usual family film by-the-numbers scenario. They both believed, and on this I agree, that they presented a more realistic portrayal of parenting and grief. And, when asked, both Scott Hicks and Mr. Good-Looking declared they each had two kids of their own.
So, this movie is not a Disney, tie-up-all-the-loose-ends-feel-good-film, but rather a more stark view of parenthood, mostly from the boy’s and dad’s viewpoints. What I found so interesting was how my wife and I viewed it from our very specific experiences. She saw the dad and his mess as reflective of the value of a mom in the home, specifically looking at me as if our home was that much of a mess when she began repairing it. I saw it from my view as a single dad, with two boys, and my opinion that this dad’s character was acting irresponsible. A few dirty dishes and a pile of laundry had less impact on me.
There is no doubt that this movie will encourage debate, or even arguments, between men and women, moms and dads, as each brings their own gender experience and opinions to any discussion. That is one of the strengths of this or any good film.
It’s not a film that I think most kids will especially enjoy. It’s really an adult film, with adult themes. Whether you’re a dad or mom, I think its theme and importance is how parents must take their jobs seriously, learn what they may not know, and not take the easy way out, however convenient it may feel at the time.