December Boys

2007, Movie, PG-13, 105 mins


Though it features Daniel Radcliffe in his first non-Harry Potter role since he was cast as the boy wizard, director Ron Hardy's adaptation of Michael Noonan's beloved novel isn't really suitable for young kids: It deals far too directly, for the Hogwarts set, with sex and death. But this charming tale of a quartet of Australian orphans who share a life-altering holiday in the 1960s should appeal to sentimental adults old enough to wax nostalgic over their own adolescence.

Freckle-faced, four-eyed Misty (Lee Cormie) and his best friends — Spit (James Fraser), Sparks (Christian Byers) and Maps (Radcliffe), the eldest — are known collectively among the nuns at St. Gregory's convent and orphanage as the "December Boys" — they were all born in the same month, when the weather in the sun-burnt Outback is hot and balmy. This yuletide season, the December Boys are in for a treat: Thanks to a benefactor's donation, they'll be spending their holiday with retired navy man Bandy McAnsh (Jack Thompson) and his wife, "Skipper" (Kris McQuade), at their quaint wooden beach cottage tucked away in picturesque Lady Star Cove. Misty (who intermittently narrates the film as an old man) is clearly of a more spiritual bent than his buddies — he says his rosary while Spit and Sparks ogle photos of bullet-brassiered catalog models and Maps smokes his illicit cigarettes. What's more, Misty is prone to communications from the Virgin Mary; the Blessed Mother tells him he's been selected for a special mission, and that this seaside holiday is part of his grand destiny. When the boys arrive, they're made to feel at home by the McAnshes and their handful of neighbors, particularly Fearless Forte (Sullivan Stapleton), a stunt cyclist with a local carnival who treats the boys to motorbike rides on the beach. While Maps falls in love with Lucy (Teresa Palmer), a pretty and precocious 15-year-old spending the holiday with her uncle (Paul Blackwell), and Sparks fishes for the legendary Henry — an enormous fish that's swum the bay for as long as anyone can remember — Misty sets about fulfilling God's plan for his personal destiny: Misty is to be adopted. One night, after the other boys return to the McAnshes, Misty overhears Fearless telling a friend that since he and Teresa can't have children of their own, he's considering adopting one of the December Boys. Misty is determined to be the boy they choose, even if it means keeping the news from the others and thereby betraying the only real family he's ever had.

With its visions of the Virgin Mary and nuns turning cartwheels on the beach, DECEMBER BOYS isn't afraid to lay on a bit of Catholic mysticism over a basic coming-of-age story, but the film is hardly doctrinaire; in fact, the mystical quality is too underbaked to feel preachy or exclusionary. Instead, it adds to the slightly dreamlike quality Hardy brings to the production, a feeling that what we're seeing isn't exactly life as it happened, but how it's remembered. Misty's narration and the present-day coda that closes the film, however, are far less imaginative and as trite as they are unnecessary. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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