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This Boy's Life

This Boy's Life

4.3 3
Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Cast: Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, Leonardo DiCaprio


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A single mother and her difficult son find family life isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be in this drama adapted from writer and professor Tobias Wolff's 1989 memoir of the same name. Nomadic, flaky Caroline (Ellen Barkin) just wants to settle down in one place, find a decent guy, and provide a better home for her handful of a son, Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio).


A single mother and her difficult son find family life isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be in this drama adapted from writer and professor Tobias Wolff's 1989 memoir of the same name. Nomadic, flaky Caroline (Ellen Barkin) just wants to settle down in one place, find a decent guy, and provide a better home for her handful of a son, Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio). When she moves to Seattle and meets the respectful, respectable Dwight Hansen (Robert DeNiro), she thinks she's got it made. Toby, however, feels differently after spending a few months with Dwight and his children and away from Caroline. The boy's stepfather-to-be seems to want to mold Toby into a better person, but to do so he emotionally, verbally, and physically abuses the kid. The marriage proceeds, and soon Caroline, too, recognizes Dwight's need to dominate everyone around him. She sticks with it, though, convinced it's the best thing for her son, and several years of dysfunction ensue. During this time, Tobias befriends another misfit, the possibly homosexual young Jonah (Arthur Gayle), while continuing to chafe under the yoke of his repressive stepfather. This Boy's Life provided the first lead role for future superstar DiCaprio. The film was written by Robert Getchell, who also penned such mother/son fare as Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and The Client.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Brian J. Dillard
It's obvious that This Boy's Life shares an affinity with Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore even before one realizes that the films share the same scribe. Like a '90s take on a '50s version of Martin Scorcese's classic '70s women's picture, This Boy's Life concerns the relationship between a kooky but lovable single mom and her excitable son. To achieve this symmetry, screenwriter Robert Getchell shifts the focus of novelist and short-story writer Tobias Wolff's original memoir so that it concentrates as much on the relationship between Ellen Barkin's Caroline and Leonardo DiCaprio's Toby as it does on Toby's inner life and the effects of his dysfunctional upbringing on his sense of self. For the most part, though, the material survives the transition, thanks in part to strong turns from the eminently likable Barkin, the meticulous Robert DeNiro, and the charismatic, mischievous young DiCaprio. The plot through which their characters walk may be familiar and it may lose its nuance when removed from the written page, but it's well-rendered, nicely acted, and relatively subtle for a family drama. The jackhammer, yet mealy mouthed cadences of DeNiro's Dwight eventually grow as tiresome as his character's unflinching brutality, while the film's emotional climax seems like a standard-issue ending tacked onto a less predictable character study. Still, it's hard not to like a picture sweet enough to include a chaste kiss between DiCaprio's Toby and Arthur Gayle's eccentric, devoted gay best friend. This Boy's Life may be the Hollywood version of Wolff's autobiography, but it comes off like a real life nonetheless.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Warner Home Video
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Closed Caption; Interactive menus; Theatrical trailer; Cast/director/writer film highlights; Scene access; Languages: English & Français (dubbed in Quebec); Subtitles: English, Français & Español

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Robert De Niro Dwight Hansen
Ellen Barkin Caroline Wolff
Leonardo DiCaprio Toby Wolff
Jonah Blechman Arthur Gayle
Eliza Dushku Pearl
Chris Cooper Roy
Carla Gugino Norma
Zachary Ansley Skipper
Rachel Abroms Actor
Owens Hill Actor
Tracey Ellis Kathy
Kathy Kinney Marian
Tobey Maguire Chuck Bolger
Tristan Tait Jerry Huff
Michael Bacall Terry Taylor
Gerritt Graham Mr. Howard
Thomas Kopache Geiger Counter Vendor
Lee Wilkof Principal Shippy
Sean Murray Jimmy Voorhees
Jason Horst Oscar Booker
Robert Munns Ticket Seller
Bill Dow Vice Principal
Frank C. Turner Truck Driver
Stephen E. Miller Target Ranger
Dwight McFee Voice in Crowd
Ken Camroux 2nd Place Shooter
Deanna Milligan Silver Sister #1
Sonny Kompanek Conductor

Technical Credits
Michael Caton-Jones Director
Rachel Abroms Casting
Charles Andre Stunts
Kevin Andruschak Stunts
Carter Burwell Score Composer
Fitch Cady Co-producer
Jim Clark Editor
Sandy Cochrane Art Director
Cotton Mather Stunts
Jim Dunn Stunts
Tom W. Eirikson Stunts
Jim Erickson Set Decoration/Design
Robert Getchell Screenwriter
Casey Grant Production Designer
Peter Guber Producer
Marcia Holley Stunts
Richard Hornung Costumes/Costume Designer
David Jacox Stunts
Matt Johnson Stunts
Michael Langlois Stunts
Nick Lawson Special Effects
Stephen Lineweaver Production Designer
Art Linson Producer
Martin Maryska Sound Editor
Allan Mason Musical Direction/Supervision
Stan McClain Camera Operator
Gary McLarty Stunts
Cole McLarty Stunts
Rose Mihalyi Camera Operator
Dave Owen Camera Operator
Owens Hill Casting
Fred Perron Stunts
Jon Peters Producer
John Polce Stunts
Michael Roberts Camera Operator
John Scott Stunts
Jo-Anne Smith-Ojeil Makeup
David Watkin Cinematographer
Fred M. Waugh Stunts
Ric Waugh Stunts
Bill Westley Asst. Director

Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Toward Heaven. [4:20]
2. High Hopes. [3:04]
3. Roy. [3:45]
4. Dream Dad. [2:39]
5. New Friends. [2:37]
6. Dwight; Mischief. [5:32]
7. Concrete's Virtues. [4:41]
8. Turkey Shoot. [4:24]
9. Thanksgiving Dinner. [2:22]
10. Wrong Kind of Friends. [1:46]
11. "I Hate the Way I Am." [2:03]
12. Whole 'Nother Ballgame. [6:31]
13. Being Better. [2:37]
14. Anybody We Know? [2:12]
15. Married. [4:39]
16. Fighting Words. [3:13]
17. Manly Tales. [2:18]
18. Boxing Lesson. [2:38]
19. "I'm Gonna Make..." [3:07]
20. Aliens. [3:51]
21. "I Will Not Referee!" [2:30]
22. Surprises. [2:47]
23. Driving After Dark. [3:27]
24. Kill or Cure. [2:23]
25. New Friends. [2:02]
26. Caroline's Kennedy Plan. [4:12]
27. Like Dwight. [2:01]
28. SATs and Prep School Dreams. [6:12]
29. Laughing Losers. [2:43]
30. Mi Casa Su Casa. [2:16]
31. The Interview. [3:22]
32. Final Fight. [6:01]
33. Separate Ways With Love. [1:55]
34. Coda and End Credits. [4:09]


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This Boy's Life 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I hate to say it, but I think one mis-cast character in this film really damaged the final product. Ellen Barkin just did not fit the role of the mother, Caroline, at all. The mother character in this film should have been more down to earth. I'm thinking along the lines of Holly Hunter. In this role Barkin just seemed too glamorous for a poor single mom bouncing from places to place in a broken down car during the mid-50's. Were they going for the Donna Reed image here? Also, I think Barkin just brings that B-Movie element to anything that she does. It's really a shame, too, because the other characters are so strong. DeNiro is thoroughly entertaining as usual. Most of his work (both good and bad) is so widely publicized that it was actually nice to find this lesser known work. And then, of course, there is DiCaprio, who is masterful as the young boy. Too bad that in his later career he shifted away from parts like this and Gilbert Grape and started inflicting garbage like Titanic and The Aviator upon us. Oh well. This one is worth the watch if you can stomach Barkin.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This movie was so great! Robert De Niro is amazing in this! He was made to play this part! This Boy's Life is funny, entertaining, and a five star, two thumbs up movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago