Based on the Michael Noonan novel, 'December Boys' follows four orphaned boys growing up together in a stuffy Catholic orphanage in the Australian outback in the 1960s. Despite the austerity of their upbringing, Maps (Radcliffe), Spark (Byers), Spit (Fraser) and Misty (Cormie) have forged strong friendships with one another.
The orphanage grants the boys a holiday to celebrate their birthdays, which all fall in December. They are packed off to the home of a kindly elderly couple, whose house sits on a pretty bay by the sea. The cove is filled with kooky characters, from the grouchy fisherman Shellback (Cotterill), to the exotic couple Fearless (Stapleton) and Theresa (Hill), a daring biker and his beautiful French wife.
The boys are overjoyed by the change of scenery and their newfound freedom. But things change when Misty overhears Father Scully (Gallacher) talk to Fearless about the possibility of adopting one of the boys, as his wife Theresa is unable to have children. Misty keeps the information to himself and tries to model himself as the perfect son. The other boys soon cotton on to his butter-wouldn't-melt persona and once they coax the information out of him, begin to play the same game.
While the other younger boys compete for the attention of their would-be parents, Maps is distracted by local girl Lucy (Palmer) and experiences first love. We see the strain that is put on their friendships as they try to outdo one another, and feelings of abandonment and rejection come to the surface.
It is a strange role choice for Radcliffe to make post-Harry-Potter, as he doesn't have much to work with as Maps. He pulls of the Australian accent well, but his performance is not all that exciting to watch. Cormie is much more affecting as Misty, the youngest of the boys and the most desperate for a family. His loneliness and craving for affection are portrayed with delicacy by the young actor.
Director Rod Hardy has taken a traditional approach to portraying the story, with a voiceover by Misty's older self and a sense of quaintness pervading the whole film. More arresting are the stunning locations, which are beautifully captured by the keen eye of Director of Photography David Connell. The beautiful cinematography is one of the most impressive aspects of the film, with dizzying sweeping shots over the shimmering ocean and remarkable sand dunes.
However, this is not enough to excuse the slightness of the storyline. Despite the hour-and-forty-five-minute running time, nothing much happens in the film, and overall it is decidedly dull. The coming-of-age tale of camaraderie fails to excite much emotion, and the characters are unfortunately underdeveloped. It has a distinctly Sunday afternoon TV movie feel, and although it is not awful, it has 'instantly forgettable' written all over it.