The Boys Are Back was the kind of movie that snuck up on me and completely sucked me in. With it’s gorgeous Australian setting and delightful Sigur Ros soundtrack, I was visually and melodically reeled into this tragic but touching story.
Clive Owen plays Joe Warr, a recent widower whose late wife Katy abruptly succumbed to cancer. Warr is a top Australian sportswriter and, while Katy was alive, Joe’s work often took him away from his beloved wife and son Artie. Following Katy’s death, Joe is ill-prepared to be thrown into single parenthood and is forced to strengthen his relationship with young Artie.
The movie follows Joe’s negotiations of fatherhood which are further complicated when his son from a prior marriage, Harry, comes to visit. Living with his mother in England whenever he’s not away at boarding school, Harry has been virtually absent from Joe’s life until his Australian vacation. During this time, Artie and Harry become quite fond of one another, while Joe tries to become the father he never was for either of his sons prior to Katy’s death.
Though the premise of the film isn’t entirely unheard of, The Boys Are Back is an original take on a familiar story. In fact, the movie is actually based on true events captured in Simon Carr’s book about his struggles with fatherhood following his wife’s death. Unfortunately I didn’t realize this until my second watching of the film just a few days ago so I have yet to read the book.
The movie takes a look at single parenting and widowhood in a touching, honest and refreshingly unaffected way. Joe experiences visions of his late wife but these momentary bouts of grief and denial are not in any ways overly done. Rather Katy’s few posthumous appearances serve as an indication of both Joe’s anguish as well as the strength of his love for Katy. In relying upon his wife’s wisdom and love, Joe learns to be a better parent, imagining the advice she would dispense and the support she would staunchly provide.
There are definitely instances when his parental judgment falters, though Joe’s intentions are always true.
His parenting mantra becomes “just say yes” rather than constantly denying things to Artie and Harry for little to no apparent reason. Although this practice ultimately backfires a bit, it also allows for a unique experience of family among these three. His sons learn just as much from Joe’s mistakes as he does himself. Ultimately, The Boys Are Back is about how learning to be a family, from the struggles to get it right to carefree moments of pure childlike fun. Joe’s situation is further complicated by a tenuous-at-best relationship with his mother-in-law, the demands of a travel-heavy job, and ambiguous affections toward fellow single parent Laura.
While watching The Boys Are Back, I can’t help feeling at least a little bit concerned about the trials of parenthood I have to look forward to in the (far) future. But the movie also highlights the accompanying rewards that can come after, if not directly as a result of, those very struggles. Out of a tragic loss, Joe finds both hope and joy in his sons, things that he may have missed out on entirely if not for Katy’s devastating end.
Though it may seem as though I’ve offered more of the plot than would be prudent, there is so much more to the movie than what I’ve described thus far. Interwoven throughouot the underlying storyline are so many beautiful moments to which I could do little justice describing in a mere blog post. And the very look of the movie is extremely compelling in itself. The Carr house settled in the Australian countryside is as idyllic as could be while the clean feel of the whole film will have you longing for a world as cozy and comforting as that which these boys forge. The music of Sigur Ros only adds to the overall tone of the film, delightfully highlighting those euphoric moments with joyous sounds and lending a shadow of beauty to scenes marked by grief and sorrow.
The only flaws I could possibly find in the film are a few not-so-firmly-established details. I’m pretty sure the film is Australian but, through my first watching, it wasn’t entirely clear where things were taking place. Joe is British and Katy was Australian, but it wasn’t until later in the film that we understood how they came to live in Australia. Part of my density may have also been attributed to talking to Mike while watching the movie the first time through – our little side conversations could have easily distracted me from some establishing factors. There were a few details that didn’t make complete sense at first, but by the end of the film it all came together.
There’s also a scene Mike and I reference a little too much when Joe is playing hide and seek at Artie’s birthday party. As the kids are all hiding outside in the dark, Joe holds a flashlight under his chin and, in a decidedly creepy voices, sings out “I like to play with little children.” Though he’s obviously emulating a character to add drama to the game, it rings with a little too much pedophilia, which fellow single parent Laura doesn’t hesitate to remark on.
Despite being a female, 22-year-old, suburban-dwelling, childless blogger, I shared in all of Joe’s experience. I laughed, I cried, I even had a little trouble following some of the nuances of the storyline, but still I absolutely fell in love with this movie and the way of life that shaped this small family unit. With great performances from Owen and the two child actors, George MacKay as Harry and Nicholas McAnulty as Artie, dazzling scenery, a heartfelt script, and beautiful imagery to boot, The Boys Are Back is not to be missed.