A coming-of-age tale adapted from Michael Noonan's novel, December Boys is primarily notable for providing Daniel Radcliffe with his first big-screen opportunity to prove himself more than just Harry Potter. Otherwise, it's a cloying, unremarkable affair. Rife with clichés and corniness, Rod Hardy's film concerns four orphans in the late '60s whose lives are oh-so-forever-changed when they're given a summertime break from their arid Australian Outback home and sent to vacation with a couple that lives by the sea. There, the goal of being chosen by foster parents is complicated by profound life lessons and, in the case of Radcliffe's virginal orphan Maps, sexual awakening at the hands of a blonde (Teresa Palmer) with a thing for Creedence Clearwater Revival. "I can teach you if you want," coos the teenage seductress, and the terrified/excited look on Radcliffe's face as he awaits entry into manhood has a vibrancy otherwise sorely absent from the proximate action. Combining the dewiness of The Cider House Rules with a few fantastical interludes seemingly culled from outtakes of Big Fish, it's a film with overwritten plotting and underwritten characters, often too content to simply work its audience over with a familiar, trite brand of adolescent nostalgia.
At this beachside idyll, Maps, Misty (Lee Cormie), Spit (James Fraser) and Spark (Christian Byers) find their friendship tested upon learning that the couple living next door to their cottage can't have children, and may want to adopt one of them. The possibility of being "saved" most fiercely consumes Misty, a devout kid who takes to sycophantically doting on the pair, a carnival motorcycle stuntman (Sullivan Stapleton) and his French wife (Victoria Hill). His yearning for family is the film's touchingly sentimental crux, complicated by the juxtaposition of the older Maps' angry disinterest in being adopted. Alas, December Boys can't leave well enough alone, tapping into genuine feelings of loneliness, acceptance and inclusion only to then embellish them with unneeded affectations. The off-putting directorial attempts to shamelessly tug at the heartstrings occur so frequently that empathy for these four comrades - dubbed the "December Boys" because of their shared birthday month - is muddied by indifference wrought from insistent emotional manipulation.