Daniel Radcliffe is known to most of the movie-going world as the film incarnation of Harry Potter. He’s been playing that character since 2001, and has appeared in five Potter titles to date, with a sixth due out this summer. I’d never seen Radcliffe in anything else, so when I heard that he had a starring role in the 2007 Australian film December Boys, I decided to check it out.
To Radcliffe’s credit, his performance was vastly different than anything he’s done in the Potter films, which shows that he does in fact have some range as an actor. Unfortunately, his presence alone wasn’t able to salvage a film that suffers from a lack of plot and very little character development.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Maps (played by Radcliffe), Misty (Lee Cormie), Sparks (Christian Byers), and Spit (James Fraser) are four orphans who have been at St. Gregory’s Orphanage ever since they can remember. They’re all friends, in part because they share the same birth month and are therefore known as the December Boys.
For their birthdays one year, the head nun at the orphanage decides to send the boys away to the coast on holiday. A man named Bandy (Jack Thompson) and his wife Mrs. McAnsh (Kris McQuade) are benefactors of the church, and have offered to host the boys for an extended period. This is an unheard of treat that the boys are happy to accept.
Once at the McCansh home, the boys start exploring their surroundings. They meet Fearless (Sullivan Stapleton), a motorcycle daredevil at the local fair, and his wife Teresa (Victoria Hill), as well as Lucy (Teresa Palmer), a girl of Maps’ age who is visiting her uncle.
After introducing the characters, the rest of the film then deals with the various experiences the boys have during their month-long holiday. For example, Maps falls for Lucy, and ends up having a short affair with her — something that he ends up remembering for the rest of his life. Misty overhears that Fearless and Teresa are going to adopt one of the boys, so he does everything in his power to make himself the chosen one. And they learn of Mrs. McAnsh’s illness and witness the effect it has on Bandy.
Through all of these adventures, the boys discover important things about themselves and learn that their bond with each other goes well beyond simply being born in December.
My Reaction: I was really looking forward to watching December Boys because it was described as a coming-of-age movie, which is one of my favorite genres. So I was quite disappointed to see that hardly anything happened to justify the film’s classification in this category.
Out of the four boys, only Maps and Misty had any kind of character development at all. Maps did have a typical coming-of-age experience with Lucy in that she was his first (and probably only) love. He had his first sexual experience with her, and was heartbroken when she left. The fact that he kept her button for his whole life and wanted his ashes to be scattered at the cave where all this happened shows that he never quite got over her.
Misty’s character development was quite different. He went from wanting nothing more than to be adopted by loving parents to realizing that the December Boys were his true family, and that he couldn’t bear to part with them. I’m not sure how believable that is in a boy of 10 or 11, but whatever. At least the character had something of an arc, and changed from beginning to end.
The other two boys? Well, they barely did anything in the whole film and might as well not have been there at all. I’m looking at the DVD cover right now, and it’s a mere two hours since I finished this film, but I’ve already forgotten which boy was Sparks and which was Spit. There was no effort at all to distinguish these boys, so I guess it’s not surprising that I still can’t tell them apart.
Another problem I had with the film was the lack of plot movement. Nothing happened here! The Lucy and Maps coupling was quick and awkward, while the Misty adoption storyline wasn’t addressed head on until well after the midway point. Other than that, viewers are forced to suffer through endless scenes of the boys running across the sand and seeing weird visions of nuns or the Virgin Mary.
Overall, I thought December Boys was pretty disappointing. Maybe if something had actually happened in the film, I’d feel differently about it, but as it is, I give it just 2 stars out of 5.