The Boys Are Back

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When sportswriter Joe’s (Owen) wife dies he commits to parenting, taking six year-old Artie (McAnulty) on a road trip of discovery and recovery. Then his estranged teenaged son Harry (MacKay) from his first marriage turns up, bringing a fresh set of chall


Male-oriented, life-affirming weepies are so rare, they have a good shot at cult status whatever box office they rack up. And we can picture men choking up over this one from the uninhibiting environment of their couches.

Based on an acclaimed memoir of single parenthood by British journalist Simon Carr, the first film Scott Hicks has made in his native Australia since his greatest success, Shine, is an engaging father and sons coming-to-terms story. Carr is a political journalist who relocated to New Zealand, but his fictional counterpart, Joe Warr, is a sports journalist transplanted to Australia. He is forever on the road covering exciting, manly international events for a major newspaper while his young second wife (Laura Fraser) raises their boy and keeps a lovely home. Then comes the cancer diagnosis and her swift, horrible death, leaving the devastated man and boy at a loss. Aware that he barely knows his own child, Joe resolves to become everything the boy needs, learning as he goes along and embracing a ‘just say yes’ parenting policy.

The film seeks to leaven the soulful insights and the emotional drama with touches of domestic comedy (just because it’s a male household it has to become strewn with takeaway trash and the sink has to duplicate Withnail’s, apparently), supernatural visitations from the dead wife, and the hijinks of father and son bonding through boisterous play. Thus it veers onto a middle road somewhere between Kramer Vs. Kramer and Mr. Mom with a somewhat heavy hand steering — although there’s amusement in Joe reporting on events he’s watching on TV rather than from his designated seat in the press box in faraway venues. Gotcha!

The arrival from England of Joe’s teenager with abandonment issues is welcome for its honesty and George MacKay’s strong presence. But it’s aggravating that a grown, professional man should be so helpless, and it seems odd he can’t get someone in to clear away the dishes occasionally, apart from the obligatory enamoured single mum neighbour or the sourpuss ex-mother-in-law. Powerful promise is also eroded by a soundtrack so lame it includes a number from Carla Bruni.

Owen reveals a rarely glimpsed warmth and the father and son dynamic has charm, but sappiness keeps the film nice, rather than as good as it might have been.