Thoroughly enjoyed this - a lot more than I was expecting to, actually. From the premise it seems like such an emotional heavyweight of a film yet all the reviews have said it veers on the saccharine, schmaltzy side in tone. I was prepared for glaring sentimentality, and that's what I got - but so engrossed in the dynamics of this dislocated family and warmed by the charm of The Boys Are Back I found myself waving away these raps and wanting the loveliness to go on.
I must admit I couldn't fully tune into the events of the film, mainly because if I did I wouldn't have been able to watch it because it's just too traumatic, especially how Katy's death is dealt with at the beginning. I found myself mentally keeping at arm's length because I didn't want to engage those thoughts. Being based upon a memoir, I found the little boy's reaction to his mother's death honest and devoid of any plot contrivance - Nicholas McAnulty who plays Artie is such a brilliant little find and barely appears to be acting at all. He was just so adorable, and I really cherished the scenes between him and his brother Harry later on in the film.
I think one of the reasons why this didn't descend into mush for me was the presence of Clive Owen. This is a very different part for him to play, and his gruffness (I still get a little unnerved during his shouty moments in Closer!) makes his character stronger and more admirable rather than cutesy and wet like perhaps a Jude Law or a Hugh Grant may have made it. I really like him here: he manages to portray a man walking the tightrope of single parenting blindfolded with his arms outstretched in a very becoming and true-hearted way.
There were things the film could have done without - the ghost scenes for one didn't work that well and weren't really very ethereal either! It would have worked better if there had been no interaction between Katy and Joe, and maybe he just catches glimpses of her occasionally (which did happen in one scene) before she's gone again. It would have made each sighting more poignant instead of just being, well... annoying.
Though the film did flirt with a few predictabilities (pretty single mother who Joe meets in a quirky way at Artie's school), the main focus remained consistently on the family, and the shifts in responsibility following Katy's death. While the film could have focused on grief and loneliness, instead it devotes a lot of time to boyish humour and behaviour, and dive bombing into motel baths and riding free form on top of a car's bonnet. It was a lot of fun, and it's very refreshing to see a film that exposes a social situation which doesn't get a lot of attention, and one that is ever changing because of equality rights and modern society. It's one of the reasons I wanted to see this film, just because it presents something so different to the cinema audience, and if nothing else it is original because of that.
The cinematography was stunning - actually I've been meaning to look up where they were living in Australia because they did seem to be a good way away from Melbourne and Sydney *goes off to have a look*... ahhh just outside of Adelaide in Southern Australia. Very beautiful, I must visit. Hee! The golden sunsets just made it look like a paradise, and imagine waking up every morning to kangaroos in your back yard!
The Boys are Back gets a glowing recommendation from me - if ever a film promoted 'warm and uplifting' then this is it. It's very watchable, and leaves you with all kinds of questions about what the boys are doing now, and how this affected them in the long run. In fact I may just go look up those answers now...