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Clive Owen proves that he’s the daddy

Film
THE BOYS ARE BACK
Cert: 12A
NOTHING to do with Thin Lizzy (sadly), this adaptation of Simon Carr’s memoir stars Clive Owen as Joe, a macho Brit sports journalist living in happy isolation on the Australian coast with his wife and young son, whose cosy idyll is swept away by her sudden death from cancer. Juggling his grief with the messy shock of single-parenthood, he’s shaken out of the complacent stupor in which he’s allowed himself to exist. Things are further complicated by the arrival from England of his teenage son from his first marriage.

This could be a cloying mess, so it’s to director Scott Hicks and screenwriter Allan Cubitt’s credit that it has just about enough humour and complexity to hold the attention. Owen is at his best playing characters whose worlds are crashing in on them, and he puts in a tender performance here. The kids are good too: as young son Artie, seven-year-old Nicholas McAnulty is naturalistic without being cute, and George McKay as GCSE-studying Harry has depth. Laura Fraser as the departed wife has a habit of popping up and talking to Joe supportively at difficult moments – he’s imagining her, see – which is the one jarring concession to Hollywood schmaltz in a film that has a respectably realistic view of parenthood, family and loss.

Having said all that, it’s a film that never quite justifies itself. However much shade, nuance and warmth you bring to the story, it’s one we’ve seen many times before. The Outback looks beautiful, and there’s a dreamy Sigur Ros soundtrack you can let wash over you. But while The Boys are Back has many charming elements, it’s never inspiring enough or – frankly – interesting enough to be memorable.

Timothy Barber

Theatre
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION
The Old Vic
John Guare’s 1990 play that launched a thousand punning headlines has never felt timelier. An acerbic satire on liberal guilt and the insecurity of wealth, its contemporary resonance barely needs to be pointed out, and in David Grindley’s whip-smart revival at the Old Vic, only its 80s interior design and the crimped fringes feel dated.

The central couple, Ouisa and Flan (played as paragons of suavity and social aspiration by Anthony Head and Lesley Manville) have an art-deal drinks party interrupted by a young and eloquent black man, who staggers into their apartment apparently having been shot. So begins the slow unravelling of their fragile aspirations, as he inveigles his way into their lives, dropping the right names and unravelling a web of artful lies. As the oily Paul, Obi Abili oozes charm, and the neglected spoilt-brat kids – especially Ilan Goodman as the petulant Doug – flirt on the edge of cartoonishness while still ringing true. If the story is predictable, the quickfire delivery and acid wit make for a lean, mean, on-the-nail satire with no pretension unskewered.

Benjamin Street

THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED
The Garrick Theatre
While Keira Knightley’s busy making her stage debut playing a film star in The Misanthrope, her square-jawed beau Rupert Friend is making his in this Hollywood satire, also in the role of a film star. While Keira gives as good as she gets in her play, however, Friend is blown off stage by a magnificent performance from Tamsin Greig as his queen bitch Tinsel Town agent. She postures, snarls, flatters and preens to delicious comic effect, and has the audience eating out of her hand from the off. It’s just a shame every scene without her – which is about half the play – is such an utter drag.

Friend plays Mitchell, a rising movie star who is secretly gay. While striving to keep him in the closet, Greig’s agent, Diane, is also attempting to acquire the rights to a play about homosexuality that she wants to turn into a film about heterosexuality, starring Mitch. Meanwhile, Mitch falls for bisexual rent boy Alex (Harry Lloyd), who is in an on-off relationship with flighty Ellen (Bond Girl Gemma Arterton). Will Mitch come out, or sell his soul to Hollywood? Will Alex love him back? What will become of Ellen? It’s difficult to care.

The play, which incredibly was a hit on Broadway, is an awfully tedious trawl through sexual issues and Hollywood politics that have been done a million times better a million times before – including in Knightley’s Misanthrope. Friend appears no more troubled by his quandary than he would be by a mildly problematic sudoku puzzle, and his features and limbs are frozen in a docile glaze all night. Arterton and Lloyd show signs of real acting talent, but the inert production and undercooked writing leave them stranded on a minimalist white set that looks as though it was knocked together as an afterthought.

TB