Popcorn Taxi: December Boys

“Adopt me, damnit.”

To bankroll a movie, particularly in Australia, one needs stars. That’s how you end up with something like Irresistible, starring Susan Sarandon, and Jindabyne, starring Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney. Of course, you also need promotion and distribution, which is why Jindabyne was the only one of those two that anyone had ever heard of.

December Boys has received a star: Daniel Radcliffe. He warrants a sort of blitz all of his own, so let’s see if December Boys has legs. To my mind it’s an enjoyable film, but not an easy sell. Australian cinema is weird like that.

Four orphans are sent to Kangaroo Island for their Summer holiday. When they learn that a couple in the cove is planning to adopt, they start a competition in earnest, while the eldest catches the eye of local girl Lucy.

December Boys is about a group of kids raised in a Catholic orphanage, so it’s a good deal more religious than most movies made nowadays. Strangely, the religious content extends to CG representations of “Our Lady” and an inexplicable trio of cartwheeling nuns, but you get a feeling that religious instruction has indeed been integral in the lives of the children. Beyond that outside influence, however, the strength of this movie is that it’s set in a self-contained world: the Cove, as it is called, is the only place that matters to anyone. Engagement with the outside world is strange and disorienting, compared to the idyll presented by all of the houses on the beach.

This is a movie starring children so it’s got to have some dubious content: I’m rather ashamed to admit that I had to wonder why I was watching a movie packed with gingers at first; gingers with everything that inspires them reflected in their glasses. It’s got that somewhat overdone “narration from the vantage point of age” angle, and an inconsistent approach to it at that. The use of the narration is spread out in such a disparate fashion that one can forget that it exists at all until it rears up again, so it catches you offguard.

Still, the magic nature of the remembered Summer holds up well, the threads that go nowhere are nice additions to creating the world, and it’s thoroughly pleasant to watch. It has that special feel to it, but I wouldn’t call it superlative. It’s one of those Australian films that the critics feel no qualms in getting behind, and director Rod Hardy had the perfect explanation.

Rod Hardy is a charismatic man, having escaped Australia to work on TV shows and movies of the week for about 18 years. When he left Australian, film was a cottage industry here. Now he has returned, Australian film is a cottage industry. He had many things to say, including stories of David Hasselhoff, who he directed in the role of Nick Fury (yeah, the Hasselhoff craze hit huge here). When he spoke of the Australian film industry, he said that December Boys has a sort of universal appeal lacking in so many Australian films. We’re drowning in movies about embattled working and lower classes who have no escape, and movies about drug addicts.

There are not a lot of movies released designed to make anyone feel good. A movie like The Homesong Stories, while a fine piece of film with outstanding performances, is filmed in bleak-vision. It makes my country seem like the most depressing place on Earth. December Boys is far from perfect, but it doesn’t make me want to move somewhere happier. It’s even got American distribution, so I would recommend trying this movie that went out of its way not to anger me.

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