Since Australia is a pipeline of huge female talents, there’s some likeliness that December Boys‘ Teresa Palmer (above) is the next big thing. She has a self-assured walk and a drastic way with men. The problem is one of intensity. In a seaside cave—Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island, off the coast near Adelaide—Palmer, playing a lass named Lucy, seduces the untried Daniel Radcliffe (that’s Harry Potter to you).
Radcliffe portrays an orphan nicknamed Maps. In his chance to break out of the role of Young Mr. Wizard, Radcliffe falls back on the same shy, pale and slightly blocked manners he has at Hogwarts; it’s not clear if he has any other speed. And since Palmer’s Lucy has to do all the work in seduction, she seems convinced she’s burning a hole through the screen. That’s not an idea any actor should allow themselves. (That said, Michael Powell’s last movie, 1969’s Age of Consent, had a similar beachside Oz odalisque. No one would have expected the gawky blonde beachcomber to grow up to be Helen Mirren, which is exactly what happened.)
Set in the late 1960s, Boys follows four denizens of a Catholic orphanage in the Outback who are sent out to spend a holiday by the sea. Their foster father for the summer holidays is a portly, jovial old ex-Navy sailor (Jack Thompson), who blows a bosun’s whistle and refers to his wife as “Skipper.”
The resort is a series of half-painted shacks linked by a small boardwalk and by a pair of electric wires climbing up hill to a clanky gas generator. It’s a funky background to the adventures of Misty, Sparks, Maps and Spit. Puppies by name, they’re pretty much puppies by nature. The real highlight of their summer vacation is the boys’ glimpse of a naked girl. She’s their neighbor Teresa (Victoria Hill), the French wife of “Fearless,” a trick motorcycle rider at the local carnival. (Sullivan Stapleton plays him, with the tepid brooding of the thug on a soap opera.)
Misty (Lee Cormie), a shy artistic kid with thick spectacles, is the narrator of this “summer we became men” story. Early on, he hears that the childless Fearless and Teresa are considering adopting a child, and he tries to be as good as possible so that he’ll get the position.
The Catholic strain in the story is both lampooned and honored. There’s a fantasy sequence about cartwheeling nuns, as well as a serious guest appearance by the glowing Virgin Mary herself. This piousness is counterpointed with more gutsy material, but a Disney story with breasts and butts is still a Disney story. It’s just the sun, the sea, the landscape and the summer girl that end up justifying this movie, if anything justifies it.
December Boys opens on Friday, Oct. 5, at the Rialto Lakeside Cinemas. 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.525.4840.
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