Ever since watching the latest trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, I’ve been ridiculously ready to see this movie in theaters . . . and since I can’t actually do that until July, this has translated into me rewatching favorite scenes from the last six films, reading exceptionally bad Harry Potter fanfiction, and checking out December Boys, an Australian coming-of-age movie starring Daniel Radcliffe. I was curious about seeing Radcliffe in something besides Harry Potter, and let’s face it: I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age story.
Unfortunately, this one has some serious, serious flaws.
Four boys (Misty, Maps, Spit, and Sparks) who grow up together at a Catholic orphanage are sent on holiday to a small town on the Australian coast. When they find out that a childless couple wants to adopt one of them, tension and competition arises between the boys.
1. What I won’t criticize about December Boys is the acting. The performances overall are very solid. Daniel Radcliffe as Maps, the oldest of the orphans, is easily the best of the boys—although, to be fair, two of them don’t have the opportunity to do very much—and Radcliffe does a lot with very simplistic dialogue. The adults are also very good. I liked the couple that’s housing the boys on their holiday, particularly Mrs. McAnsh (Kris McQuade).
2. However, the movie itself . . . it’s pretty riddled with cliches. I can deal with some of them—there are certain staples you expect to see in a coming-of-age film, after all—but when you can outline pretty much everything that’s going to happen, right up to the exceptionally cheesy end . . . yeah, that’s bad.
And boy, did I not like that end. A closing scene like the one in December Boys can be either very moving or very nauseating. The emotion I should have been feeling at the end of this film was completely overwhelmed by my eyeballs trying to roll backwards into my skull.
3. The other big problem with December Boys is editing, specifically, scenes that seem to come out of nowhere. For example:
At one point, one of the boys ends up falling off the rocks into the ocean because of course he does. It’s this big moment in the movie . . . but you never see the kid climbing those rocks in the first place, or even leaning over the rocks, or falling, or anything you might expect to lead up to a dramatic moment like this. There are at least three or four scenes like this in the movie, where a kid’s suddenly doing something, and you’re like . . . okay, when did THAT happen?
4. It’s possible that these missing scenes were purposefully deleted so that December Boys could focus on repetitive shots instead. I swear, if I had to see the majesty of this damn black horse one more time, I would have climbed through the TV screen and punched it right in the face. Yeah, that’s what I said. Punched the pretty horsie right in the face, Conan style, baby. It’s not that I have a big grudges against horses or anything, but the “beautiful animal” cliche is better in small doses, like the deer in Stand by Me. You don’t need to see it fifteen times to get the point.
5. And I’m all for eccentric Australian small town characters, but the old fisherman guy is just bizarre. Also bizarre? Nun vision. Seriously, there’s really no way to properly describe this.
6. Although, on a related note . . . there’s a weird element of spiritualism or supernaturalism to this movie that should play . . . but just doesn’t. It’s kind of hard to describe why it doesn’t without spoilers, but like most of the film, it comes off as cheesy instead of moving or, hell, even interesting.
7. I did like that the boys aren’t all innocent and boring or anything—you know, they smoke and steal beer and look at pictures of nude girls. Sometimes, moviemakers seem to have this urge to make the children in their films all sweet and pure and completely empty-headed, so it was nice here to see boys acting like, you know, boys.
Sadly, however, that’s not nearly enough to save this movie.
I hate to say it, but in the end I agree with a Netflix reviewer who said to skip this and go watch Stand by Me instead. The basic story’s fine, and the performances are good, but cliches and cheesiness abound, and the uneven editing makes this film seem incredibly amateurish.
All for one and one for all. Also, watch out for nuns. They’re certainly watching over you!