December Boys

“December Boys” is a quintessential C+ movie, which is a film that you should not go out of your way to see, but that would not do you any harm if you did see it. You buy a ticket for it only because you’re standing in front of the theater, you’ve seen everything else that’s worth seeing, and there’s a showing of it in 10 minutes.

Not exactly high praise for “December Boys,” but it’s not a slam, either. This review is going to read like one big shrug of the shoulders. Is “meh” a grade? It should be.

Based on Michael Noonan’s novel, the film is set circa 1960 on an Australian beach where a few quaint houses sit, just a few meters from the water. This is where the four title characters — young orphans whose birthdays fall in that month — go to spend a few weeks around Christmastime, sent by the Catholic orphanage where they live and hosted by a kindly, devoted older couple.

The boys are Sparks (Christian Byers), Spit (James Fraser), Misty (Lee Cormie), and Maps (Daniel Radcliffe). Misty, who wears glasses, is the film’s narrator, recalling the story from the vantage point of old age. All of the boys seem to be around 12, except for Maps, who must be pushing 18. Radcliffe, in his first film non-Harry Potter film role, was 17 when it was shot and already seems too old to be hanging out with these boys. Is there no one closer to his age at the orphanage?

It’s summertime in Australia, and the boys are ecstatic to be away from the orphanage and its desert surroundings, here among the beautiful rock formations, caves, and endless hills of the seashore. (If the film can be said to excel at anything, it is in David Connell’s cinematography, which makes the shooting locations look like paradise on earth.) Maps notices a girl near his age at an adjacent house, a blond vixen named Lucy (Teresa Palmer) who smokes cigarettes and has a record player hidden in a cave up the shore. They have an immature teenage love affair.

Meanwhile, the boys learn that a childless couple who lives down the beach is thinking of adopting one of them. It’s Misty who first acquires this intel, and overnight he becomes the most obedient, gracious orphan you ever saw, in an amusing attempt to be the most desirable adoption choice.

The director, TV veteran Rod Hardy, seems to know the material is nothing special. He guides the story along smoothly, without gimmicks or fanfare. It is what it is, you know? It’s a coming-of-age story, with some charming elements of rascally boys-will-be-boys behavior, and a maudlin, sappy ending. It’s a gentle and unchallenging wisp of a movie. No reason to see it. No reason not to see it, either. Shrug.

C+ (1 hr., 45 min.; PG-13, some topless sunbathing, some sexuality, mild profanity.)