Assignment 2: Critical Review and Bibliography
MCC231 Australian Cinema
Dr. Garry Gillard
Semester 1 2008
Release Date: 20 September 2007 (Australia)
UK 13 September 2007 (London premiere)
USA 14 September 2007 (limited)
Directed by Rod Hardy
Rated PG (AU) or PG13 (US)
Duration: 105 min.
Genre: Drama, Family, Coming of Age
Tagline: After that summer nothing would ever be the same.
- Daniel Radcliffe – Maps
- Lee Cormie – Misty
- Christian Byers – Sparks
- James Fraser – Spit
- Jack Thompson – Bandy
- Teresa Palmer – Lucy
- Sullivan Stapleton – Fearless
- Victoria Hill – Teresa
- Max Cullen – Narrator and Adult Misty
- Michael Noonan – Novel
- Marc Rosenberg – Screenplay
- David Connell – Cinematography
- Richard Becker – Producer
- Jay Sanders – Co-Producer
- Jonathan Shteinman – Executive Producer
- Film Finance Corporation Australia (FFC)
- South Australian Film Commission
- Becker Entertainment
- Village Roadshow Pictures Entertainment
Production Budget: $4 million
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
Box Office Total Lifetime Grosses
Total Worldwide: $1,157,096
Awards Won: Australian Writers' Guild, 2007, Awgie Award Feature Film – Adaptation (Category)
Daniel Radcliffe Interviews:
MoviesOnline.ca by Sheila Roberts:
“If this film has a message, it’s very much that family doesn’t necessarily mean blood relations and it is whoever you trust and love. They make up your family. That for me is the message.” Daniel Radcliffe – Maps
MovieFone AIM Interview:
“decboydaniel: it is not that i want to totally dismiss harry, because i am so proud of playing him and of the films. but, i just want to establish myself as an actor, rather than as a character. and these roles are giving me a chance to branch out” Daniel Radcliffe – Maps
indieLONDON Interview by Rob Carnevale
“In terms of the other stuff I’ve been doing recently I think vulnerability is something that every character I’ve played has had. But I think the fact that Harry [Potter] and Maps are both orphans doesn’t make them the same character. They’re still very, very different. I think Harry very much wears his hearts on his sleeve and is very vocal about how he feels, whereas Maps is much, much quieter. For the first quarter of the film he really doesn’t say much. And that was the main challenge for me, being able to communicate the same amount you would have to with any other character but with less dialogue.” Daniel Radcliffe – Maps
Rod Hardy (Director) Interviews:
“I’m not saying my movie has any kind of major point [to make] but it’s a search for family and a search for self and I think that’ll work for a number of people.” Rod Hardy – Director
Girl Interview by Paul Fischer
“I think when you're looking at any character; you have to look at what they come out of. I think Maps' driving force is, he just has an overwhelming desire to be needed by somebody.” Rod Hardy – Director
IGN by Todd Gilchrist
“[...] Hardy leavens the dramatic tones of this "poor orphan" story with more than a few moments of imagination and whimsy [...] December Boys is good, but not great; and as far as coming of age stories are concerned, when a movie tells you that after watching it nothing will ever be the same again, the likelihood is pretty high that everything actually in the film will be exactly the same as what you've seen before.” Todd Gilchrist, IGN
Urban Cinefile by Louise Keller
“A moving coming of age story that canvasses faith and family, The December Boys reminds us why our childhoods often hold the key to our heart.” Louise Keller, Urban Cinefile
Seattle Times by Moira Macdonald
“If the producers of "December Boys" had not had the very good sense to secure Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe to star in their film, it's unlikely we'd be seeing this pleasant but unremarkable Australian import in American theaters.” Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times movie critic
The New York Times by Jeannette Catsoulis
“As for Mr. Radcliffe, his acting is fine. It’s his career planning that needs some work.” Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times
Hollywood.com by Jenny Peters
“Using the incredible landscapes of Oz as a key element of the story, Hardy creates a visual cornucopia that parallels the emotional journey the four orphans take through the course of the film.” Jenny Peters, Hollywood.com
Variety by Russell Edwards
“Destined to be forever known as "Harry Potter Gets Laid," the visually well-mounted but narratively muddled "December Boys," featuring Daniel Radcliffe, is an occasionally touching but rarely convincing coming-of-ager. [...] Radcliffe's presence providing curiosity value ...” Russell Edwards, Variety
FutureMovies by Paul Greenwood
“If it weren’t for the presence of Daniel Radcliffe, it’s unlikely that December Boys would be getting released in this country at all. An Australian/UK co-production, it’s the sort of pleasant, inoffensive, thoroughly dull and instantly forgettable little film that could easily pass for an ITV drama.” Paul Greenwood, FutureMovies
December Boys has an official website (http://wip.warnerbros.com/decemberboys) which includes the movie trailer, buying the DVD, email updates, photos, wallpapers, screensavers, and video clips. The site is well designed but overall limited in information about the movie itself. The majority of information available online is focused around Daniel Radcliffe being a lead in the film, his first major work since the Harry Potter series. Many people considered this a test to see if Radcliffe can really act or if he'll be type cast for the rest of his career. There was also a lot of talk about Radcliffe because he falls in love with Lucy, Teresa Palmer, and there's a sex scene. Some people, like the film reviewers Paul Greenwood of FutureMovies and Moira Macdonald of the Seattle Times, believes that this film wouldn't have been released passed Australia if it weren't for Radcliffe's participation.
Film Synopsis and Commentary
December Boys focuses on a group of four orphans who grow up together during the 1950s or 60s. The boys are Maps (Daniel Radcliffe), Misty (Lee Cormie), Sparks (Christian Byers) and Spit (James Fraser). The story is originally based on a book by Michael Noonan. Told through the flashbacks of the main character, Misty, the film begins by showing the four orphan boys leaving their Catholic orphanage and going away on an extended holiday to the sea on the South Australian coast. It's December, which is the month that they all have their birthdays, hence the name. It's a little unclear why they end up in this small town, whether it's to celebrate their birthday or just to keep an elderly couple company for a few weeks.
Tension between the boys mounts when Misty overhears a conversation about how a couple in the town may want to adopt one of the boys. Misty decides to stay quiet with this information so that he has the advantage to winning over the couple and being the chosen boy. After confessing this secret to a preacher, he then realizes the right thing to do is to tell the others to make it fair. Misty lays it on thick around the couple, trying to appear to be the perfect child worthy of adoption and love, while simultaneously betraying the other boys and working against them.
The second to main character, Maps, is the oldest and often seen as the leader of the group. In one interview with the director, Rod Hardy, he discusses Maps' feelings of wanting to feel needed and relied upon by others. Then the boys meet Fearless, an adult male in the film played by Sullivan Stapleton, who all the boys suddenly realize is the most amazing man they've ever met. Almost immediately, they idolize him because he's older and has a motorcycle. It's at this point that Maps starts to lose his authority over the boys and he begins to seek the need and love of a female character, Lucy, played by Teresa Palmer. The two form relationship and Maps falls in love with her, but she suddenly leaves to go live with her father without saying goodbye. Maps, again, feels lost and more vulnerable than ever without feeling like he has anyone that needs him in their lives. In the end, Maps risks his life to try and save Misty from drowning in the sea. It's then that he feels a refreshed sense of dedication to the boys.
Eventually, the couple chooses to adopt Misty. The other boys are saddened, but it's obvious they had other plans on their mind as they go back to pack their things to return to the orphanage. As they leave, Misty watches them as they play on the beach and realizes that he may have found a “father” and “mother” to love him as their “son” but that his true family is the one he's built with the other three boys. He thanks the couple for their decision, but tells them that he really belongs with the boys and they can't be separated. Somewhat surprisingly after all that work of selection and paperwork, the couple doesn't object and Misty leaves immediately after an embrace.
Like most Australian films, the setting itself is key component of the story. The backdrop of the sea and the incredible caves and rock formations of Kangaroo Island help illustrate the ways these boys live their daily lives. The sand dunes and large fields where they run and play with abandon. The coastline where Fearless gives the boys rides on his motorcycle, up and down the shore until sunset. The sea where they swim, secretly fish and where Maps and Misty almost drowned. All of the colors and scenery of this film's setting helps to make it a truly authentic “Australian” film.
The film itself moves at a slow pace with some strange cut-aways to Misty's inner thoughts in a dream-like state. One day dream in particular makes the film worth seeing when, for about ten seconds, three nuns do cartwheels on the beach. I think it's likely that the reviewers who said the film would not have been released on a world wide scale if not for Daniel Radcliffe are probably correct. It gave a chance for the actor to break out of the Harry Potter role, which is why so many fans of the series were excited to see this film. The fact that there was a mild sex scene involving Radcliffe also contributed to the scandal and curiosity that created an increased level of buzz about the movie before and after its release. If it had been any other actor, though, chances are that most people wouldn't have seen or talked about it. Although well written and acted, the film lagged in certain portions and lacked any particularly climaxing moment or turning point in the film that was memorable or different from other films before it.
Critical Uptake of the Film
December Boys has had very mixed reviews in the media. Again, most discussion is centered around Radcliffe's presence in the film as his first major work since the Harry Potter series. Many found it unforgettable and timeless, while others saw it as dull and without new or creative story telling methods. However, it did win an Awgie Award, which are the only peer assessed writing awards in Australia, for Feature Film from the Australian Writers' Guild in 2007 in the “Adaptation” category. In total, the film grossed only $50,715 domestically, $1,106,381 internationally and $1,157,096 in total according to boxofficemojo.com as of the 13th of April, 2008. Its opening weekend, it only opened in four theaters and made $15,810 with its widest release topping off at 13 theaters. Since it had such a limited release, it becomes even more clear that Radcliffe helped carry this film as far as it was able to go.
Richard Becker, the producer, bought the rights to December Boys because he enjoyed the story and wanted to do a film about friendship and love which is why this film particularly appealed to him. "I think everyone has a summer they can remember where they suddenly grew up, where the journey was particularly profound, where meaningful things happened. That’s what I read in this story and that was its appeal. I wasn’t an orphan and I certainly didn’t experience some of the things that they boys went through, but it resonated with me," described Becker.
Radcliffe spent six months practicing to achieve an authentic Australian accent. He only had a small amount of time between filming Harry Potter movies to be available for this film. Over 1,000 boys through out New Zealand and Australia were auditioned before they found the right group that looked cohesive together as a group.
Rod Hardy's Previous Work
Rod Hardy is an Australian director who has been working in Hollywood over the past 20 years directing TV shows and made for TV movies. His work includes shows such as Battlestar Galactica, an immensely popular TV show in the US, as well as Burn Notice, The Practice, Hack, JAG and the X-Files. Although most of his work as been in Hollywood, be began directing in the early 70's when the film scene in Australian really started to boom. In 1999, Hardy won a Bronze Wrangler from the Western Heritage Awards for the 1998 Television Feature Film, "Two for Texas."
Genre Analysis – Coming of Age
December Boys fits best in the Coming of Age genre of film because it predominantly focuses on issues of childhood and growing into adults. In the film, the boys realize their interdependence to each other and others in their community as well as to themselves. They see parts of their identity in each other and themselves that they didn't know existed before the summer where “nothing would ever be the same.” One of the pivotal rites of passage in the film was the relationship Maps formed with Lucy. Since he grew up in an Catholic orphanage, he had very limited interaction with girls and didn't understand how to interact with them or how love would feel. The main people that he had contact with had been priests and nuns. Therefore, he probably hadn't been told much about women, relationships and love because the parental role would have been absent in his life. Like most teen love in life and in film, their relationship ends in heartache, at least for Maps, when Lucy suddenly leaves the small coastal town to go live with her father without saying goodbye to him.
In the book, Film in Australia An Introduction, Moran writes, “Love and sex acquire special significance and attraction during the teenage years. The restless years of adolescence, especially involving the struggle to negotiate the physical and emotional changes occurring – teenagers fall in love, get crushes, wonder about their sexuality, learn to flirt, renegotiate a sense of changing bodies, puzzle about romance and sex and how these fit together – provide plenty of scope and subject matter for the teen film of the amorous and bodily desire.” (Moran 181)
It's through this relationship with Lucy that Maps learns the reality of how disappointing life can be, particularly when someone needs to feel belonging.
Misty also goes through a significant coming of age rite of passage when he decides not to stay with the couple who wishes to adopt him. Garry Gillard states, “One of the key things adolescents have to do - it is almost a definition of the word - is to come to terms with their relationships with their parents, as they prepare to move away from them and out of home and become adults in their own right.” (Gillard) Even though these were not Misty's parents yet, he also went through a clear point where he decided living with the boys and never being adopted was more important than the love of two adult parents. It's not so much that it was “more important” on a societal level, but it was all Misty knew and he didn't want to give up the only family he'd ever had by taking a risk of trying a new one. Also, there would be few children in the area aside from him. As the boys were walking away, Misty looks up at the adults, then back at the boys, and it becomes clear that despite having the love of two adults he would likely be bored from having little contact with people his own age.
This film works well on many levels, despite being slower and not incredibly deep in plot. It's a little unclear where the story is going at times, but it always stays focused on the concepts of friendship and family within the circle of the four December Boys.
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"December Boys at AceShowBiz.com." http://www.aceshowbiz.com/movie/december_boys/ (accessed April 11, 2008).
Gillard, Gary. “Teenpic.” Murdoch University. 1 April 2005. http://garrygillard.net/231/10.html (accessed April 11, 2008).
Moran, Albert, and Errol Vieth. Film in Australia: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 181.