A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Boys Are Back is a moving drama about profound loss experienced by both adults and children -- subject matter that could easily overwhelm younger kids and tweens. A mother’s death is depicted onscreen, as is her family's unraveling soon after she's gone. But though the journey to healing is messy -- a widower makes some questionable parenting choices in the wake of his loss -- healing does happen, and it’s affecting to watch. Expect some swearing ("s--t" is the strongest word used), drinking, and kissing/flirting between adults.
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What's the story?
Sportswriter Joe Warr (Clive Owen) has a new assignment: parenting his young son, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty), after his wife (Laura Fraser) dies from pancreatic cancer. Loving but often absent due to his job, Joe is at loose ends -- trying to keep his deep sadness at bay, “just say yes” is his mantra. But mantras can’t stop the pain, and the arrival of Harry (George MacKay), Joe's estranged son from his first marriage, provides an opportunity to face the loss -- and other demons -- completely.
Is it any good?
It’s difficult to portray the ravages of grief on screen, but director Scott Hicks, who won an Academy Award for Shine, accomplishes it effectively in THE BOYS ARE BACK. Inspired by writer Simon Carr’s memoir, the movie vividly renders death’s messy aftermath -- the way mourning upends just when you think you’ve righted yourself. Owen and the actors who play his kids are authentic -- McAnulty and MacKay achingly so -- which saves the film from outright treacle (for a movie about grief, it has some great laughs). Their reactions seem to spring from genuine feeling, not “acting.” And the movie's landscape -- glorious, golden, gorgeously filmed Adelaide, Australia -- is a stirring counterpoint to the family's lamentable state of affairs. It’s a reminder that life simultaneously ends and continues.
A few objections: After his wife’s death, Joe’s home and his parenting understandably fall into neglect (scenes of Joe driving with Artie on his lap will surely rile up vigilant moms and dads). But both outcomes feel predictable, somehow, as do his developing interest in a single mother and his one-on-one conversations with his (dead) wife. The film is powerfully lean, but it could’ve been made ever so slightly leaner.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how each family member reacts to their painful loss. Why does Joe turn to alcohol? Why does Artie see-saw between neutrality and rage? How does Harry’s arrival complicate matters?
How does the movie portray the father-son relationship? Is that dynamic harder to navigate than other family relationships? Why or why not?
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