December Boys

Dir. Rod Hardy (Warner Independent Pictures) - 3.5 stars

Although Daniel Radcliffe fans will disagree, “December Boys”—while easy on the eyes—lacks the originality to make it noteworthy. An adaptation of Australian author Michael Noonan’s eponymous text, the film chronicles coming-of-age trials in a familiar light. And while director Ron Hardy gracefully treats the convergence of childhood ideals and adulthood disillusionment, the final package is debilitated by scattered characterization.

The movie opens at the chaste, jejune scene of an Australian orphanage home to four self-named December Boys (for their birthdays) linked by the same distant desire of adoption by doting parents. When they are taken on holiday to a bucolic cove beside an unfamiliar seaside, they find themselves empowered—and sometimes divided—by the unbridled freedom.

The pace is slow and episodic. The audience sees the predictable rifts arise between the boys­—Maps (Daniel Radcliffe), Misty (Lee Cormie), Sparks (Christian Byers), and Spit (James Fraser)—as a desperate search to find stability tears them in different directions.

Each struggle for emotional satiation ends in disappointment. The frustration is most poignant in the case of Maps, the eldest. While the younger three vie for the affection of a childless couple, Maps sees parental figures with a hardened, distrustful gaze and instead turns to the overstated sexuality of Lucy (Teresa Palmer), the town’s fair-haired fast girl.

Radcliffe, who has clearly found his niche in the troubled-orphan role, plays the part well. As with his full-frontal stint in British West End production of “Equus” earlier this year, Radcliffe channels a darker and brooding maturity, breaking from his clean-cut Potter role. Besides baring his bottom (again), Radcliffe’s character dazedly follows Lucy into a dalliance with sex, cigarettes, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The deftness of Radcliffe’s touch only exaggerates the mistake the screenplay makes in focusing on Misty, the film’s narrator who views the world with the aid of thick lenses and a self-professed spiritual radar.

Misty’s viewpoint should make amends for the film’s saccharine nature. The story he shares is told through the dreamy, forgiving magnifying glass of childhood nostalgia, an easy conduit to the intended core idea of the film: fulfillment through the rekindling of old bonds. This ultimate coherence, however, is precluded by the disproportionate attention that Radcliffe’s skill and his star status draw, as well as by the lack of character development elsewhere.

The delicate poignancy of the film has a familiarity that most audience members will appreciate; the scattered characters and narration, unfortunately, have a distancing effect that makes it harder to sit through cloying moments. Still, Radcliffe fans and viewers willing to indulge in youthful awe will appreciate this sentimental venture.

—Staff writer Erin F. Riley can be reached at eriley@fas.harvard.edu.