December Boys

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

This film is a coming of age picture for the four main characters, and how their lives change over one Christmas holiday. The film is set in late 1960s Australia. Four orphan boys from a Roman Catholic orphanage in the outback of Australia – Maps, Misty, Spark and Spit – were all born in the month of December, and for their birthday, they are sent on a holiday to the beach to stay with Mr. and Mrs. McAnsh. While there, they meet Fearless, a man who claims to be the risk motorbike rider in the nearby carnival, and his wife, Teresa. Misty, Spark and Spit instantly become closer to Teresa, but Maps, eldest of the four, is still reluctant to talk to her. He instead finds more fun in spending time with an older teenage girl named Lucy, who had come to the beach to stay with her uncle. He often goes up to a place with strange rocks, and meets her there.

A few days later, the orphans peek through a window in Fearless’ house to see Teresa undressing, but Misty, being the most religious of the four, throws a rock at the wall to make them go away. Misty runs back to Mr. McAnsh’s house and looks through the small opening of a door to see someone in the shower, only to find that it is the sickly Mrs. McAnsh. They soon discover that she has breast cancer.

One night, Misty overhears Fearless talking to his friends about the possibility of adopting one of the orphans. Excited about the opportunity to finally have parents, he keeps it to himself until he decides to reveal it to a priest who has driven to the beach for the orphans’ confessions. The other boys realise that he is taking too long, and once he is finished, they force it out of him with the threat of Spit spitting on him while he is pinned to the ground. Misty, Spark and Spit are eager to compete for the love of the seemingly perfect Fearless and Teresa, but Maps is less than excited, even saying to Lucy, “What’s the big deal about parents, anyway?” Maps experiences his first kiss with Lucy, and soon loses his virginity to her in one of the caves of the Remarkable Rocks.

There, she tells him to promise that he will always remember her as his first. The next day, he goes up to the Remarkable Rocks, only to find Lucy is not there. Her uncle tells him that she’s left the beach to return to her father, and will not likely be back until next summer. Heartbroken, he goes to the carnival to find Fearless and talk to him, but discovers that he is not a motorbike rider there, and instead cleans up after the animals. Furious that he’d lied all along, he finds a painting made by Misty of him as the son of Fearless and Teresa, and destroys it. Misty attacks him and hits him with the fragments of the frame he’d put the painting in, and the bond between the four orphans is broken.

Fearless finds Maps in the cave of the Remarkable Rocks, and explains to him what had really happened. It is revealed to that Fearless was formerly a bike rider, and did all of the stunts with Teresa riding on the back of the bike. Then, there was an accident that kept Teresa in the hospital for nearly a year, making her unable to have children. That was the reason they had wanted to adopt one of the orphans.

Maps returns to the beach and finds out from Spark and Spit that Misty has gone into the water, and is drowning. Maps goes after him despite the fact that he cannot swim. Both he and Misty nearly drown. Underwater, they open their eyes to see a vision of the Virgin Mary, possibly meaning that they are dying. Before they can reach out to it, the two boys are grabbed by Fearless and brought back to the shore. Maps and Misty reconcile with each other and the four are friends again.

The next day, the boys are called to Fearless’ and Teresa’s house for an announcement. There, they reveal the couple is going to adopt Misty. He takes leave of his friends and he watches on the front porch with Fearless and Teresa as the other three orphans walk away and begin playing on some rocks down the beach. Misty realises that they are his true family, and asks Fearless and Teresa if he can stay with them instead. They accept, and he returns home with the orphans.

Many decades later, Misty, as an old man, drives to the same beach along with the ashes of Maps, who had recently died while working as a priest in Africa helping refugees, and Lucy’s ring that she gave to Maps on that holiday long ago. He meets up with Spark and Spit, and they toss the ashes & ring loose into the wind from the hill above the beach, remembering Maps and their time there, with a cheer to “The December Boys

REVIEW:

There was a time, not that long ago, that audiences were wondering if Daniel Radcliffe could do anything in his career besides play Harry Potter. He answered this question not only with this film, December Boys,, but also with a turn on Broadway in the play Equus, which saw him totally disrobe. I think it is safe to say that he can do more than play Harry, wouldn’t you?

What is this about?

After living together for years at a Catholic orphanage, four teenage boys must face the likelihood that they’ll never be adopted. But while on vacation, the boys become rivals as they compete for the affections of two prospective parents.

What did I like?

Coming of age. Look back to films such as The Outsiders, My Girl, Stand By Me, etc. Those were flicks that showed us a period of time where the characters were…”coming of age”. This film does the same thing and, from what I can recall, is the first of its kind in quite some time. I wonder why they stopped making films in this subgenre.

Characters. Anytime you take a story that involves multiple characters, you need to give each of them decent amounts of screentime. For the most part, this film does that and also throws in a few other characters. Is this a study in character study? A little bit, but that isn’t the main reason for being, if you will, for this film. Or is it?

What didn’t I like?

Dull. I really hate to say this, but this film is just plain dull and boring. I was fighting dozing off the whole way through it. The only time anything interesting happened, such as the super cute Teresa Palmer appearing, it doesn’t last long and we go back to having to sit through the equivalent of a lecture.

Horse. Perhaps I missed something regarding it, but there is this horse that randomly shows up. I’m not sure if it is really there or if it is some kind of hallucination, but it sort of makes no sense for it to be there, especially given the tone of the film. At the same time, though, it was a nice change of pace and lightened things up. Still, I believe it was misplaced.

I applaud Daniel Radcliffe for taking the chance and stretching out from the Potter universe with December Boys, but this was not a film that worked for me. My goodness, I hope the book isn’t this boring! Sure, there are those out there that will enjoy this, and that’s fine. More power to you, but for me, this is one of those films that exists for the artsy-fartsy crowd. Obviously, that isn’t me. If you’re into tis kind of flick, though, give it a shot.

3 out of 5 stars

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