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Opal Dream

A Whimsical, Poignant, Family Film

Directed Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and adapted from Ben Rice's debut novel, Pobby and Dingan, Opal Dream is the rarest of family films: a family film that never condescends to moviegoers, young or old; has something meaningful to say about dreams, family, and community, but doesnít overplay or sentimentalize its message; and never takes the path of least resistance followed by generic Hollywood fare. Then again, a Hollywood studio didnít make Opal Dream. Itís an Australian film starring relative unknowns. That fact, plus the slang and accents, shouldnít stop parents interested in taking their children to an entertaining, moving film that wonít leave them bored or looking at their watches anticipating the last scene.

The Williamsons, Rex (Vince Colosimo) and Annie (Jacqueline McKenzie), and their two children, Ashmol (Christian Byers) and Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce), have moved to Lightning Ridge, Australia, to prospect for opal, a rare, valuable mineral. Rex dreams of a prosperous future for his family if only they could strike a large enough opal deposit. Rex isnít the only dreamer in the family, however. Kellyanne has two imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan, that she takes everywhere with her, much to the disapproval of her older brother, Ashmol. Rex doesnít approve of Pobby and Dingan either, but grudgingly accepts their presence as a way to mollify Kellyanne.

Rex hits on a plan to separate Kellyanne from her imaginary friends. Heíll take them mining with him for the afternoon while she goes to a pool party with her mother. Unfortunately, Rex ďlosesĒ Pobby and Dingan when his mine collapses (or so Kellyanne believes). In the nighttime search for Pobby and Dingan, Rex strays onto another minerís claim. The other miner immediately accuses Rex of attempting to steal or ďratĒ his claim. Rex is brought up on charges, including trespassing, while a grief-stricken Kellyanne becomes increasingly sick. Ashmol takes it on himself to help his father, by getting legal representation for him from an opal retailer, ex-lawyer, and local eccentric, and helping Kellyanne by starting a community-wide search for them.

Although Opal Dream is marketed as a family film, itís more than that. But first, here's what the movie isn't: it isn't cloying, sentimental, or manipulative. In other words, Opal Dream is everything a family-oriented film should be. It has a compelling storyline, complex, well-rounded, sympathetic characters, and a positive message about the importance of family and community. It's a straightforward, inoffensive message, but as itís tempered by the acknowledgment of real-world complications and complexities, both positive and negative. And with Cattaneo at the helm, the message never gets overplayed. It's still there, of course, but mostly as subtext (something parents will be happy about).

And in a film where two of the major leads are children and, therefore, spend a lot of time onscreen, together or separately, Opal Dream could have been derailed by under-talented or under-coached child actors. Luckily, the opposite is true here. Cattaneo coaxes believable, grounded performances from Christian Byers (Ashmol) and Sapphire Boyce (Kellyanne). Neither Byers nor Boyce mug for the camera (shamelessly or otherwise), as weíve come to expect from family-oriented films produced by the Hollywood studios. As their parents, Vince Colosimo and Jacqueline McKenzie, acquit themselves well, but thatís to be expected given their acting experience (both have extensive television and film credits), as is the variable performance quality from a supporting cast that mixes professional actors with locals to fill out the smaller, one- or two-line roles.

Ultimately, itís hard to imagine how Opal Dream could have been a better family film. A strong, compelling, storyline that takes its audience down an unfamiliar, but nonetheless emotionally satisfying, path? Check. Sympathetic, recognizable characters grounded in the real world? Check. A message or themes presented in a non-condescending or unsentimental manner? Check. Credible performances by child actors? Once more (for the last time), check. Thereís not much more you could ask for from a family film. Not much at all.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars