In every movie you see there will be an incident that stretches credibility to breaking point (in airhead, violence-as-porn fantasies like ‘Salt’ they are twenty to the dozen) Remember when the family absconded with the corpse in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’? It was simply not believable, but because there was something else more important happening, and because our commitment to the story had been firmly established, we were prepared to go with it.
Director Nadia Tess takes a similar risk with artistic licence in this wonderful film when she has two small boys, in fancy dress, sneak out of the hospital’s cancer ward and make their way, by cab, to Melbourne’s Luna Park. It’s a big ask, but I took it on board unhesitatingly, so wrapped was I in the drama that was unfolding. Sick kids are hardly the most appealing subject matter, but writers Lynne Renew and David Parker have constructed a narrative that maintains forthright pace, suspense and a modest, slow blooming romance without at any time demeaning the plight of their central characters.
Eight year-old Jack (Tom Russell), in hospital after being diagnosed with aggressive leukemia, becomes mates with fellow sufferer Finn (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whose condition is more advanced. Jack’s mother Marissa (Jacinda Barrett) discovers on the day of his admission that her husband David (Richard Roxburgh) has been having an affair and is planning to leave her. With their marriage in meltdown and David’s numerous infidelities coming to light, Marissa seeks out his former mistresses in the last-straw hope that one of them may have borne him a child who might be a compatible bone marrow donor. Meanwhile Finn’s condition deteriorates, despite the defiant optimism of his widowed, Irish dad (James Nesbitt). Yes, it’s a soapie alright – but what a beauty.
The search for a donor – if one exists – is never predictable, but a reassuring orthodoxy in the flow of events promises reward for the emotional weight that is at one point (for me, anyway) overwhelming. Barrett, who first caught the eye in ‘Ladder 49’ (2004), is superb as the desperate young mum, Roxburgh is genuinely dislikeable as the utter bastard and, as Finn’s dad, James Nesbitt reins in a character that threatens at first to tilt in to goofiness. Both boys are naturals. Polished without ever trying to be flash and enhanced by a perfectly pitched Paul Grabowsky score, it has inevitably suffered from the black-shirts’ charge of sentimentality, but I loved it and found it immensely moving and honest in its humanity. You can catch it at Lismore.