Matt Nettheim
Lisa Schwarzbaum
September 23, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Boys Are Back

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG-13
runtime
104 minutes
Limited Release Date
09/25/09
performer
Clive Owen, Tommy Bastow, Laura Fraser, George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty
director
Scott Hicks
distributor
Miramax
author
Allan Cubitt
genre
Drama

We gave it a B-

In the low-impact widowed-daddy drama The Boys Are Back, Clive Owen plays Joe, a British sportswriter based in Australia whose chosen style of child rearing, following the death of his wife from cancer, is distracted permissiveness. Bedtimes are indistinguishable from playtimes, meals are indistinguishable from delivery pizza, and if his younger son (Nicholas McAnulty) wants a joyride on the hood of a car, Dad is happy to get behind the wheel. (George MacKay plays Joe’s more conventionally raised son from his first marriage, visiting from England.)

If Joe’s free-range approach to parenting is controversial — he takes pride in ruffling the nerves of nearby mothers with his WTF attitude — it’s also faithful to the examples supplied by real-life widowed British journalist Simon Carr, on whose well-received 2001 memoir The Boys Are Back in Town this sweetened adaptation is based. But where Carr writes with a straightforward energy, director Scott Hicks (Shine, No Reservations) shellacs the proceedings with a gloss of sunshiny affirmation, a Hicks specialty/weakness that dulls whatever edge the story has in conveying the bewilderment of an overwhelmed single father. With those piercing eyes, Owen makes a lovely, soulful Joe, of course. But it’s not the nice papa we want to understand here, it’s the unapologetically naughty one. B-

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