“The Boys Are Back”
            It doesn’t sound very interesting:  guy’s wife dies, he finds himself raising their six-year-old son.  It’s awkward with his teenage son from his previous marriage.  And it’s also awkward with his late wife’s parents, who seem constantly critical and judgmental of his relaxed parenting style.  Oh, and his boss is getting impatient with the whole Mr. Mom thing.  Nothing really unusual---so what’s so good about it?
            For starters, Clive Owens is just fantastic in this role of “Average Joe” Warr.  He slogs through the sloppy grieving as best he can, overwhelmed with all the busyness of running a household, which, of course, he had taken for granted.  Sometimes he finds himself fussing at his son to hurry up, other times quietly reading him a bedtime story, other times standing in the kitchen, cutting off the crusts of his lunchbox sandwich.  And sometimes he goes outside and just collapses in a sobbing heap.  He tries to go on a “road trip” with his six-year-old right after the funeral, but that just postpones the inevitable facing of the daily grind.  Owens somehow manages this role without mawkish oversentimentality or maudlin pitiableness. He’s not a caricature of a formerly clueless Dad just now “getting it.”  He really does love his children.  But sometimes he doesn’t realize how overbearing he can be.  Sometimes when he thought he was doing the right thing, he discovers he wasn’t.  And while he doesn’t obsess about what could have been, he does decide that he can be more open about his feelings to the ones who matter most to him:  his boys.
            Nicholas McAnulty plays the six-year-old son with such non-affectation that you can’t help but develop affection for him. George MacKay’s role as the older son is less significant, but more complex.  He comes to love the little brother he never had.  But he cannot help but still carry around anger about his Dad leaving him in the first place.  All the way to Australia from England , no less.  Talk about daunting distances.
            Laura Fraser, as the dead wife, keeps re-appearing in Joe’s conversations, most of the time at the house, but sometimes even in the grocery store.  He wants so badly to talk things over with her that he does, and somehow this does not seem strange to us at all, any more than it does to Joe.  Yes, Joe meets a Mom at school, and they talk easily about their kids, and even exchange play dates.  But Emma Booth’s role as the “maybe” girlfriend is going to be limited to Joe’s capability to reset, emotionally, which he obviously isn’t yet ready to do.
            How do you cut corners at work because you need to be with your children?  And how do you decide when to disappoint your boss so that you won’t disappoint your son?
Of course, many working Moms go through this every day.  But Joe is constantly surprised by the difficulty of everyday single parenting.
            In the end, of course, he can’t make his older son forgive him.  But at least he learns to say “I’m sorry,” and mean it.  It’s not that he couldn’t assert himself before, he’s just learned that it’s better to pick your moments for that.  And hands-on affection is something that is easier said than done for guys.  Even fathers and sons.
            It’s not a typical “chick flick” because the women are not the primary characters.  But it does deal with emotional development, and significant relationships.  And best of all, it just feels honest.
            Clive Owen for an Oscar nomination.
           
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas