The buzz for December Boys surely points to how Daniel Radcliffe will fare sans cloak, glasses and lightning bolt scar on his forehead, to star in a movie that's totally out of the Harry Potter franchise. Gone are the fantastical elements and scores of ready, adoring fans, and in comes a serious dramatic piece about the coming of age, growing up, and raging hormones. Wait, Harry Potter is about that too doesn't it, although it stretches over 7 movies?
But Radcliffe comes through unscathed, and it's not before long that you'd forget that here's Harry Potter. While possibly the biggest recognizable name on the cast list, it wasn't a walkover performance as everyone else had raised their act and not allow a young starlet usurp the strength of the movie. Based on a novel by Michael Noonan, December Boys tells the story of 4 orphans, all being born in the month of December, who were sent packing to a seaside village for a vacation, by virtue that it's a reward sent to the orphanage, and what better (lazier?) way to select the lucky few, than the ones celebrating their birthdays the same month.
So we have Maps (Radcliffe), Misty (Lee Cormie), Sparks (Christian Byers) and Spit (James Fraser) sent on a journey that will test their close friendship, and as usual, each will come face to face with their individual challenge that will forever change their lives. Gee, I sound like a generic trailer, but trust me, although the premise might sound cliche, December Boys hinges very heavily on the delivery of the child actors for its success. While the spotlight might be on Radcliffe and Cormie, Byers and Fraser each have their own charm, but are restrained by the frequency of their characters' on-screen appearance. The landscape of Kangeroo Island adds vast scale to this relatively small movie, opening our eyes to natural geographical wonders, becoming a character in itself, with its inhabitants mere players on its grounds.
While it's not Stand By Me, there's the usual basis that lurks around begging for comparisons. And worse, the story here allows for each of them to try and go one leg up on the other, as they learn that one of the purposes they are there at the village, was to allow for one of them to be selected for adoption. Hence the competition amongst the boys as they vie for attention, putting on their best behaviour, most contrary to what their actual characters are like. Each child however, have an episode directed around him, to similarly allow the audience to pick their preferred sub plots, involving a giant fish, a misunderstood motorcycle stuntman, dealing with mortality issues when their surrogate guardian has to battle disease, and of course, saving the best for last and for Radcliffe, first love, in the form of a young lolita Lucy (Teresa Palmer).
Soon, their hot blooded young boy antics and rebellious streaks give way to a tone of seriousness, and there's where the movie adds its poignant gravitas. December Boys might not seem much from the get go, but with each passing minute, it adds layers upon layers to build its repetoire and stand up against the scrutiny of mediocrity. By the time the final scene rolls by, even though it doesn't show much and does so mostly through narration, I thought the ending was perfect, with a tinge of regret, happiness, sorrow, and a show of solidarity all rolled into one.