Despite buoyant performances from its cast and an excellent score by Sigur Rós, cloying sentimentality is in heavy supply throughout Scott Hick’s adaptation of Simon Carr’s memoir The Boys Are Back, a middling study of familial loss that rigorously pulls at ones tear ducts. In the opening scene, sports writer Joe Warr (Clive Owen) drives along a vast Australian beach as onlookers bemoan his adolescent son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) dangerously riding atop the hood of the car. Warr’s relaxed parenting skills are obviously suspect as the house is consistently left untidy for days, but now that his wife has died suddenly from cancer, he must raise his rambunctious son the only way he knows how: with total disregard for discipline. While his concerned mother-in-law disapproves of his paternal choices, Warr calls upon Harry (George MacKay), his abandoned teenage son from a previous marriage, to mend wounds and bring the family closer together.
Boys is your typical weepie, with sporadic appearances by Joe’s deceased wife, a figment offering sound support and guidance. Hicks’s intentions, though, are occasionally in the right place: In a woefully telling and well-crafted moment, the camera subtly follows Artie as he bears witness to his mother’s declining health while she gasps for air. However, as the first half of Boys carefully constructs a somewhat truthful account of a family’s bereavement (Artie expressing complete, naïve indifference when Joe breaks the tragic news of his mother’s death, feels shockingly real), the latter unravels when Harry enters the picture, and the reality of grievance is subsequently taken over by too many distracting, plot-heavy obstacles, like Joe’s nagging boss forcing him to cover the Australian Open while he foolishly leaves his two sons unattended. The brutish charmer Owen may reap awards for his charismatic portrayal of a single dad in mourning, but Hicks’s largely unsteady grip on the story derails the film from its initial path of depicting genuine anguish, predictably culminating with a smile glued upon each character’s face.