Film-Forward Review: [DECEMBER BOYS]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Daniel Radcliffe as Maps
Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

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Directed by: Rod Hardy.
Produced by: Richard Becker.
Written by: Marc Rosenberg, based on the novel by Michael Noonan.
Director of Photography: David Connell.
Edited by: Dany Cooper.
Music by: Carlo Giacco.
Released by: Warner Independent Pictures.
Country of Origin: Australia. 105 min. Rated PG-13.
With: Daniel Radcliffe, Lee Cormie, Christian Byers, James Fraser, Jack Thompson, Teresa Palmer, Victoria Hill, Sullivan Stapleton & Kris McQuade.

The juvenile cast of this languid Australian coming-of-age play their roles as Catholic school boys a little too well, rigidly and dutifully going through the paces, even without a knuckle-whacking nun in sight.

An unseen adult narrator, Misty, looks back to his boyhood in an Outback orphanage in the mid-’60s, where he had “the constant belief that he would be saved” – adopted, that is. But he, his two mates, and the older, towering Maps (Daniel Radcliffe in his first non-Harry Potter film role), are bypassed year after year by couples adopting children. A diverse bunch, the younger Misty says the rosary while the other three smoke cigarettes after the lights are out. But because the group lacks an easygoing camaraderie, their tight bond is more a stated fact than a believable friendship.

And because of another bond, though an arbitrary one, that all four boys’ birthdays fall in December, they get to spend the Christmas holiday by the ocean, paid for by a benefactor, where they are taken in by a couple played by the wonderful but woefully underused Jack Thompson and Kris McQuade.

Alone on the beach, the boys spot a Venus emerging from the water, a beautiful and topless woman who nonchalantly greets the boys (she’s French, you see.) Theresa (Victoria Hill) lives in the cove with her strapping husband, Fearless (Sullivan Stapleton), who works for the nearby carnival. While lurking about, spying on this new adult world, Misty overhears the couple considering adopting one of the pack. The reason behind Misty’s exemplary behavior in front of the couple is easily noticed by the other boys, who compete to be the most well-mannered at the dinner table. That Theresa is, at first, an object of prepubescent lust but then becomes a coveted maternal figure is an abrupt transition the film never acknowledges, though it would have made it more interesting.

All are in competition as a potential adoptee except for the withdrawn and perpetually perplexed-appearing Maps, who becomes the target for seduction by the restless and striking Lucy, played by Teresa Palmer, who basically has to do all the work in her scenes with a listless Radcliffe. (Maps must be the only boy close to her age for miles around.) If the blogosphere makes hay from the fact that Radcliffe goes beyond first base in this film, the robotic storytelling will deflate any curiosity.

Radcliffe’s not the only one who seems at a loss for what to do. The film features the only fight in memory where two boys are at fist-a-cuffs, while the other two barely feign interest. The same is true for the adults. An argument between Theresa and Fearless has gaping pauses. One can count the seconds between Theresa’s storming out and the door slamming.

December Boys could have used some of the sass and cheeky humor in Danny Boyle’s mischievous Millions, with its seven-year-old protagonist obsessed with knowing the goriest details of martyred saints. But when Misty has an underwater vision of the Virgin Mary (that most maternal figure of all), the scene is played unquestionably and humorlessly straight. The film, as a whole, reverently looks back on a pre-Vatican II world, but as far as I know, Mel Gibson had nothing to do with it. Kent Turner
September 14, 2007



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