By JANE WILSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published October 4, 2007
“December Boys” is a heartwarming story that captures a defining moment in the lives of four young men. The film has no villains and contains no action scenes; instead, it is populated by decent people who do their best to live positive lives.
Based on a young adult novel by Michael Noonan, “December Boys” is the story of four best friends who live together in an orphanage in the Australian outback in the 1960s. Maps is the oldest, reserved and mature, while Misty is the sensitive youngest. Sparks and Spit are the energetic pair in the middle. These four friends are grouped together because their birthdays all fall in the month of December, hence the title.
When the orphanage comes into some extra funding, the Reverend Mother proposes that the residents be treated to a holiday. The “December Boys” are the first chosen to go, because it is their birthday month. The four are taken to stay with a kindly couple who live in a secluded cove on the sea. This summer adventure allows them to experience independence and the individual attention that they never get back at the orphanage. It is truly exhilarating to see the four boys set loose on the beautiful sand dunes and rocks of the coast. Their sense of adventure is amazing as they are set free to explore an alien territory.
Just as their world expands with their environment, the four boys also grow from their encounters with the people of the cove. Maps’s romance with a local girl, Sparks and Spit’s rivalry with a local fisherman and an illness that hits close to home teach the boys important lessons about love and life. The most important lesson comes when Misty overhears that a local couple might be interested in adopting one of the boys. This generates a fierce rivalry between them as they compete for the chance of a real family.
Religion and Catholicism play an important role in “December Boys.” The boys live in a Catholic orphanage, and it is clear that the sisters who run the institution are well-meaning women who do their best to provide for their charges. They clearly give the boys a solid spiritual foundation, and the boys have grown into polite and kind, if mischievous, youngsters. Misty, in particular, shows a keen curiosity about religion. He is preoccupied with the Blessed Mother, and her image plays a positive role at key points in the story.
The boys are surrounded by people who are positive role models throughout the film. The nuns offer kindly guidance at the orphanage, and the priest who takes them on their trip to the cove is well-meaning throughout the film. The couple who have invited the boys are older and seem rather foreign to the young boys, but they are very hospitable, and by the end of the trip they have forged a touching bond; their farewell is truly bittersweet. Skip, the wife, is a devoted Catholic, and her devotion to the church and the comfort she takes in prayer is portrayed respectfully. The neighboring couple, a younger pair who long for children of their own, also display the positive values of love and courage in the face of difficulty.
Each of the young actors does a creditable job in the “December Boys.” Best known for his role of Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe brings a shy reticence to the role of Maps, a young man who is facing the reality that it may be too late to ever achieve the dream of having a family and parents of his own. Lee Cormie is a retro charmer in the role of Misty, the narrator of the tale. Christian Byers and James Fraser as Sparks and Spit, respectively, bring an energy and wit to their smaller roles.
The setting of “December Boys” is vital to the film. The gorgeous scenery plays a part of its own, and the details and music ground the story in a definite place and time.
Although the movie seems to move a little too slowly at times, it is a truly sweet story that uses old-fashioned storytelling to make important points about family, love and trust.
Jane Wilson, a local writer and movie enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.