DECEMBER BOYS (2007)
Movie Review, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
You probably missed it in the theater. Daniel Radcliffe stars in this independent production at the height of the Harry Potter phenomenon. The Australian made film found a big name distributor for the USA and Canada, Warner Brothers. Yes, the same mega movie studio that distributed Harry Potter. If you were the producer of this little Australian project, you might have expected to hit the jackpot with Radcliffe’s star power, plus one of the biggest movie distributors in the world. You would have been wrong.
Filmed down under in 2006, December Boys is based on the novel of the same name. The setting was moved up from the 1930s to the 1960s and is told as a flashback, as it was in the book. This allows the ending to be brought up to modern times. The boys are orphans at a Catholic institution. Four boys (five in the novel) share December birthdays. Each is given a gift of a Christmas holiday at a large beachfront home.
Radcliffe, a teenager at the time, is the oldest of the boys, known as Maps. The other three, Spit, Spark (or Sparks, the film is unclear) and Misty are younger boys of about the same age. Misty is the narrator.
For Radcliffe, this is a coming of age story. He meets a girl who is a bit of a wild child and through the course of the movie you will see Radcliffe smoke, drink and, well, if you don’t know what they were doing in that cave, you were never a teenager. Later, Maps dismisses an inquiry by one of the younger boys about that mark on his neck.
The home of the older couple who hosts the boys’ holiday introduces the element of health problems of one of the adults. It’s a bit of a sad sidetrack to a storyline filled with side tracks. There is also an old fisherman at the sea trying to catch some elusive large fish. Naturally one of the boys get caught in that story line.
Then there’s the young couple who fail to conceive a child. When the young husband tells the priest from the orphanage they are having trouble getting pregnant, you know what the priest will suggest. Misty overhears and determines to be the one adopted. Eventually he tells the priest he was eavesdropping. The other boys force him to spill the story. Then the little ones try to be model citizens, while Maps knows an older boy will never be adopted.
There are plenty of hi-jinks for the boys. The young man pushing the adoption with his wife owns a motorcycle and gives the younger boys rides along the beach. Misty goes in the water and nearly drowns and our hero comes to the rescue. Do I have to tell you who? There is disappointment and heartbreak in store. Throughout, the single thing the boys share is the only family they know, each other.
In addition to various goofs, some of the symbolism is confusing. And unnecessary. A dark stallion periodically appears, symbolizing something, but I’m not sure what. Misty has “visions” of the future — nuns and the Virgin Mary. It works having Misty picture the future through an empty frame; the rest doesn’t work. Boomers may find the out-of-time 1970s songs jarring.
Radcliffe wasn’t paid a big salary to make the movie. He probably wanted a chance to be someone other than Harry Potter. The character of Lucy, with whom Maps has a relationship, was not in the novel. Perhaps this intrigued Radcliffe. Perhaps it worried Warner Brothers.
When the film opened in September of 2007, it had staggered release dates for Sydney, Melbourne, and London, most likely so Radcliffe could attend. When Warner Brother opened it as a “limited release” in the US, it was on four screens the first week, eight the next, and 13 next. After which it more or less disappeared. Not exactly a grand opening for a boy known round the world. Of course, the boy was known for a specific role and Warner Brothers wanted to keep it that way, at least to the degree they could control it.
It didn’t make much money. Of course. In the U.S., it grossed about $100,000 during its three-week release in September 2007. The film cost an estimated $4 million and grossed around a million dollars (U.S. and Australia) during its theatrical release. It’s currently available as a digital download from Amazon, and on used DVD.
December Boys got mixed reviews. The confusion of the story lines mixed together was criticized. Immortal film critic Roger Ebert said, “There seem to be two movies going on here at the same time, and “December Boys” would have been better off going all the way with one of them.” One thing critics agreed on: young Daniel could play someone other than Harry Potter.
The “coming of age” story with Lucy and Maps was created for the big screen. Perhaps therein lay some of the problem of plot development. It might have been better to skip the extra plot and have Radcliffe play a boy who everyone looked up to, who came in to save the day when there was trouble for any of the other characters.
Oh wait, he was already doing that. Rather successfully too.