In this day and age, you can be forgiven for assuming that Storm Boy is the latest, lesser-known Marvel or DC property to be converted to the big screen. And if that was your expectation going in, then you would be sorely disappointed. Laser beams, explosions, and evil alien masterminds are not to be found anywhere near this title. What is to be found however is a charming tale about a semi-retired businessman revisiting his forgotten childhood with his rebellious granddaughter.
Michael Kingley (Geoffrey Rush) is preparing his company to vote through a deal that will morally jeopardise his relationship with his granddaughter, Madeline (Morgana Davis), but will financially benefit the company, now owned by his son-in-law, when a violent storm puts a halt to the vote. During the storm, Michael sees pelicans. Or at least, he thinks he does. The pelicans, real or not, are the force that nudges Michaels childhood memories into play and he decides to share them with Madeline.
Michaels upbringing was very isolated on the coastline of Coorong with his financially fragile fisherman father, Tom (Jai Courtney). A breathtaking backdrop to a lonely life, the only other signs of civilisation are sporadic hunters and Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson), a local Aboriginal man who inspires a young Michael (Finn Little) to adopt three newly born and recently orphaned pelicans. Baby pelicans are not as I imagined. Very far away from cute. They resemble freshly shaved scrotums with beaks stuck onto them. However, Michael sees through the disturbing baby bird’s physical appearance and nurtures them into maturity, learning valuable life lessons along the way.
The father figures in this film are pivotal. Young Michael has two, Tom and Fingerbone, and Madeline is clashing with her father, Malcolm (Erik Thomson). All these relationships are linked together through blood and past experiences. Micheal has a positive bond with Tom, for the most part but he has a completely different ethos with Fingerbone. Tom and Fingerbone are both good people but their values are different. Tom knows there’s a bigger world out there and he wishes his only son to experience it instead of getting trapped on this remote coastline. Fingerbone believes that humans, animals and the Earth they walk on are all spiritually linked to each other. He is content around the coast, doing what he can for his little part of the world. These differing points of view cause conflict within Michael who wants to stay on the coast with his Pelicans forever. He has no interest in the greater world, yet Tom seems filled with regret and remorse about his life choices. He had not always lived on this beach and longs for his son to know more. This disagreement with his father helps him to connect with Madeline much later in life. Passing the torch of wisdom that Tom had passed to him onto his granddaughter to bring about a positive change, but not just for himself, Tom’s influence, but for the benefit of the larger community, Fingerbone’s influence. Eventually, at such a great age, Michael finds a way to appease his two father figures’ core values in the form of Madeline.
Storm Boy looks and sounds fantastic. Eye-watering scenery of Australian beaches make for a wonderful cushion and safety net, protecting Michael from the outside world. Alan John’s musical work is spot on for this, the score wouldn’t be out of place in a 90s Nintendo 64 game like Banjo-Kazooie, which would have been aimed at a similar family target audience as this film. A playful and authentic soundtrack really gives the feeling of an innocent youth, especially during the montages on the beach with the pelicans, emulating the mood perfectly.
The structure feels episodic throughout but with some advert breaks. Instead of adverts we get Geoffrey Rush, just to remind you that he’s still in the film. The main narrative is drawn from Michael’s youth, and these stops in the story can feel abrupt and disruptive. Jai Courtney and Fin Little have excellent rapport with one another on screen and are completely believable as father and son, so these pull backs are a touch annoying as it seems unnecessary at times. Courtney was always on an uneven playfield with me as I have typecast him in my head as always portraying a shit-house but he absolutely slaps that prejudice out of me with his caring and somber performance.
Ultimately this story is just a backdrop for old versus new. Different Times versus Generation Z. Intentionally political that starts off as a subtle undertone at first but then becomes prominent. Michael becomes a fat cat buisnessman with less than a fuck to give about the envirment or the people he hurts. It takes his rebellious, modern thinking granddaughter to remind him that he was once inclined to consider the earth and all its inhabitants. A terrifyingly powerful message that will forever be relevant.
Dir: Shawn Seet
Scr: Justin Monjo
Cast: Finn Little, Jai Courtney, Geoffrey Rush, Trevor Jamieson, Morgana Davis
Prd: Michael Boughen and Matthew Street
DOP: Bruce Young
Music: Alan John
Runtime: 99 mins
Storm Boy is available on Digital Download now and is out on DVD later in the year.