Director: Scott Hicks
Cast: Clive Owen, Laura Fraser, George McKay, Emma Booth, Julia Blake, Nicholas McAnulty
Watch The Boys Are Back online in the UK: Netflix UK / Amazon Instant / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Google Play
It’s a man’s world. Except for the sad family dramas about death and grief. Stereotype dictates those are female territory. Not any more. Scott Hicks’ sorrowful, uplifting drama is all about men and mourning. When Katy (Fraser) passes away, Joe (Owen) is left to raise their son Artie (McAnulty) on his own. A workaholic jounalist with barely any home time, he’s still got to get to know his boy, let alone comfort him. Then along comes Harry (McKay), an English teenager from Joe’s previous marriage, to shack up with them Down Under for a few weeks. The Boys are Back, and they’re storming the emotional fort.
At the head of the testerone-fuelled trio, the vulnerable, stroppy and distant Joe sets the example for the others to follow. Matters aren’t helped by his parenting style: he embraces a house with no boundaries (the few that are there are soon broken) and no housework. As the mess climbs the walls – to the shock of formiddable mother-in-law Barbara (Blake) – it’s clear his life is lacking a woman’s touch. Enter Laura (Booth), mother of one. Just what the house needed to build up the tension.
It’s not all painful sniping, though. Constructing a subtle narrative from Simon Warr’s memoirs, Alan Cubitt’s script plays things soft and slow. Unafraid to lift the mood, Cubbitt’s creation jumps from driving through large puddles to dive-bombing a bathtub without the weight of a sentimental core; everything feels fluent, not at all scripted. Even when Katy haunts Joe, it’s in a brilliantly unstagey way. There’s no smoke or mirrors here. Just beautiful Aussie sunshine.
Shot across wide landscapes, the location is gorgeous to look at. And that’s when Clive Owen’s off screen. His good looks hiding his talent for character acting, Owen impresses no end: just lying next to his sick wife, waiting for her to stop breathing, he effortlessly inhabits this tender hulk of a man. Even his hair looks sad. Conveying his shabby emotional state from his scalp to his shoes, he’s a sensitive bloke, but still a shit father. Shirking responsibilities for an easy, unstructured life, he avoids communicating with his children, instead buying them crisps and leaving them home alone.
The two younger actors are also incredible: awkward, silent and seething with resentment, they slowly do away with the discord as their dad begins to improve his act. The link between them all feels very real. Lensed in an open, naturalistic way, Scott Hicks shoots their blokey bonding without a trace of trite sentiment – helped along by a gentle guitar score and the odd song from Sigur Ros. Hicks balances the schmaltz with the sincere, guiding his graceful cast to form a family unit who seem as close to us as they are to each other. Best of all, like real life, there’s no happy ending. With a drama this decent, who needs one?
The Boys Are Back is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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Where can I watch The Boys Are Back online on pay-per-view VOD?