This review was written for the theatrical release of "December Boys."
"December Boys" bathes in the summer sun and sea breezes even as it exudes the energy of youth and promise. It is set in an affable seaside community in South Australia in the 1960s, in a few homey shacks built within a cove. There is a flavor of nostalgia here, too, as old rock tunes waft through the air. The film's dramatic moments are small but exquisitely rendered so that you feel the emotions experienced so many years ago. The film lingers afterward in your mind like a favorite vacation that triggered moments of sheer intensity.
Based on the Australian coming-of-age novel by Michael Noonan and featuring Daniel Radcliffe in his first major role apart from the Harry Potter character, "December Boys" is a modest though poignant film that touches on timeless themes of love, friendship and family. Radcliffe is the film's calling card; otherwise, it would be difficult for Warner Independent Pictures to create awareness of such a small-scale film. Likewise, Village Roadshow, which handles international sales, must hope that Radcliffe will lead audiences to this satisfying movie experience.
The story, which Marc Rosenberg adapted from Noonan's novel, revolves around four orphan boys born in December who have grown up in a Catholic convent in the Outback. All have reached or are reaching an age when the prospects of adoption are increasingly slim. A Christmas outing to the seaside gives them a welcome respite from school.
The narrator actually is the youngest boy, Misty (Lee Cormie, quite good), who is quiet, neat, mature and determined to get adapted. The eldest boy, Maps (Radcliffe), is closing in on 17 and not even certain at that age whether he even wants to be adopted.
Spark (Christian Byers) has a taste for the forbidden. This includes cigarettes and lingerie ads. Aside from the disgusting social habit that gives him his nickname, Spit (James Fraser) loves challenges and feels he is up to each and every one.
The boys stay in a house with an aging couple, Bandy McAnsh (veteran Aussie star Jack Thompson), a retired naval officer who salts his language with nautical terms, and his wife (Kris McQuade), who have a secret motive for inviting the lads to join them.
The boys meet a circus performer and his French wife. Since they can't have children, they seem the perfect couple to adopt. A competition breaks out among the three youngest boys, which puts friendships to a test. Meanwhile, Maps becomes utterly infatuated with a local blonde named Lucy (Teresa Palmer), who both enjoys and encourages his romantic interest.
Misty narrates from deep into the future, so this is a memory piece and, perhaps, memory plays its tricks. Could all of these slender narrative strands have been so neatly resolved? Did that idyllic December really freight so much emotional weight? Does Misty in the future really remember the cove's metaphoric wildlife -- a black horse that wanders the beach and a huge fish named Henry, which has eluded capture by an old fisherman for years. Not to mention a personal appearance by Our Lady to two of the young Catholic boys?
Director Rod Hardy favors sunsets over the ocean and high angle shots of the cove, the sea and the striking topography of this desolate, gorgeous location. It's a neat package save for a curious ending, many years later -- presumably today -- where actors far too old to be those boys in 2007 reassemble on the cove to spread the ashes of the one lad who has died. Didn't anybody do the math?
Warner Independent Pictures
WIP and Village Roadshow Pictures
in association with Becker Films and the South Australian Film Corp. present a Richard Becker production
Director: Rod Hardy
Screenwriter: Marc Rosenberg
From story work by: Ronald Kinnoch
Based on the novel by: Michael Noonan
Producer: Richard Becker
Executive producers: Hal Gaba, Jonathan Shteinman
Director of photography: Dave Connell
Production designer: Les Binns
Music: Carlo Giacco
Co-producer: Jay Sanders
Costume designer: Mariot Kerr
Editor: Dany Cooper
Maps: Daniel Radcliffe
Spark: Christian Byers
Misty: Lee Cormie
Spit: James Fraser
Lucy: Teresa Palmer
Bandy McAnsh: Jack Thompson
Teresa: Victoria Hill
Fearless: Sullivan Stapleton
Shellback: Ralph Cotterill
Running time -- 105 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13