Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Boys are Back

2009. Dir: Scott Hicks. Starring: Clive Owen, Laura Fraser, Emma Booth, George MacKay and Emma Lung. ●●○○○

Watching two films back to back is always a dangerous option. Inevitably one will be better than the other, and the lesser film will therefore seem even more inferior than it actually is. The Boys are Back suffered this weekend in comparison with the far superior Brothers (reviewed yesterday).

This is partly due to some minor similarities in the subject matter of the piece. Both films address the grieving process and how families must build themselves up again following bereavement, however where the pain in Brothers seems both futile and real in The Boys are Back it is hollow and manipulative.

The film is a reworking of Simon Carr's memoir about how he rebuilt his life after the passing of his second wife, and how the family coped using a just say yes strategy to parenting. No doubt the original biograph details the effects of his wife's untimely battle with cancer and introduces us to the dilemmas of single parent families in a slow and measured way. I would like to read it, especially as the adapatation has butchered all the build up. No sooner than Clive Owen's wife picks a little black number to wear to a party she's doubling up with a look of intense concentration. Five minutes and several hospital and home care scenes later we're at the burial and Owen is beginning to cloud his relationship with his mother in law about how to bring up his son.

We are then subjected to a number of cloying scenes with no narrative flow. There's a road trip, some days at school, Owen's son from his first marriage visiting and some frantic juggling of work and family pressures. But you never get a sense that anything happens between these scenes. Sure there must be a point when Owen adopts his just say yes attitude, but we never see it, nor do we explore the reasoning behind it. There's a tentative romance which we only realise it's going to be a tentative romance because the boys respond and later the elder boy (played by George MacKay) makes a life changing decision withou letting the audience in on how he made it.

Does the always say yes system work? We don't know - sure we know that it irritates other mothers, and that the kids respond by trashing the house - but we don't know whether they respect his authority as a parent, or whether they need any structure. We don't know if their hog heaven turns into a literal hog hell, or whether how the dynamic changes over time. We don't even know if there is any attempt to resolve the younger boys periods of depression following his mother's death (he lies down and does nothing for half an hour every day according to Owen, but there's never a hint of counselling or even anything more than a mild curiousity).

It's not a completely dreadful film. Owen does a reasonable job; luckily they kept his character Brtish so he didn't have to fail putting on an Aussie accent. Laura Fraser is also fine as his wife in the early scenes as well as appaering in Owen imagination - God, I know that's a terrible cliche but at least she's not too bad at these points. MacKay also shows some promise.

Grieg Fraser's photography is also quite nice, capturing the beautiful Australia landscape and the closeness of the garden. He especially likes playing with light and water. But this is dull work when compared to his extraordinary efforts in Bright Star.

These pluses combine with the knowledge that at least it's better than Scott Hicks' last 2 films (No Reservations and the truly awful Stephen King adaptation Hearts in Atlantis) to give the film 2 blobs out of five. Saying that if I see a worse film this year I will be very disappointted with myself.

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