Meant to celebrate the joys of parenthood and family, The Boys Are Back might just put you off ever having children, if you don’t already. For the childless, the movie is a glimpse into a nightmarish alternate reality, where mercurial little beings rule your every waking moment, making impossible demands without discernible motivation. Watching the movie feels like spending 100 minutes at the birthday party of a kid whose parents think he’s adorable but who just spends the whole time running around and crashing into things.
Which is to say, it’s actually quite boring and tedious, once the saintly wife of jet-setting sportswriter Joe Warr (Owen) dies poignantly of cancer, leaving him to raise their rambunctious young son Artie (McAnulty) alone. In the manner of such movies, Joe is in over his head but eventually gets the hang of being a parent, which he practices according to a sort of laissez-faire philosophy, allowing Artie and later Joe’s teenage son Harry (MacKay) from his first marriage to run wild around their sprawling Australian estate.
Minor conflicts arise, but Boys is so uneventful that it often seems like we’re watching Joe parent in real time. He flirts with a pretty divorcee whose daughter is in Artie’s class at school; he has to reconcile his high-powered job with his need to be there for his children; he sometimes butts heads with Artie’s grandmother and Harry’s mother. None of it feels particularly consequential or revelatory, and the movie ambles so listlessly that it’s hard to tell where we’re meant to be looking for plot or character development.
Boys isn’t as sappy as a full-on Hollywood version of this story (based on the memoir by Simon Carr) might be, but it does indulge in its fair share of bereavement clichés, the worst of which are Joe’s occasional conversations with his late wife, who is so beatific and all-knowing that she might as well be an actual angel. The grieving process is tough and painful, and parenting is complicated, but this movie makes both into languid, dull afternoons in the sun.