If you are cynical, you probably won't respond to the merits of
OPAL DREAM, a family film adapted from a novella by Ben Rice and
directed by Peter Catteneo. The film centers on the Williamson family
who have recently uprooted from Melbourne and settled in the Outback
town of Coober Pedy, known as the "opal capital of the world." The
landscape, though, is fairly desolate even though it holds a
preternatural beauty.

 Dad Rex (Vince Colosimo) has brought the family to this remote
area in order to pursue his dream of mining opals. With one strike,
the family's precarious financial situation will be alleviated. His
long-suffering, if loving wife Annie (Jacqueline McKenzie) has had to
become the breadwinner and ekes out a meager living as a clerk in a
market. Son Ashmol (newcomer Christian Byers who exhibits real screen
presence) serves as narrator. He adores his father, shares in his dream
of striking it rich, and is considered the "normal" one in the family.
Especially when compared with his younger sister Kellyanne (Saphire
Boyce). Kellyanne is a somewhat sensitive child and she hasn't
adapted well to the move. Perhaps out of loneliness, she has
created a pair of imaginary friends with the unlikely names of Pobby
(a cape-wearing male with a wooden leg) and Dignan (a pretty girl
with an opal in her bellybutton). Everywhere she goes, they go.
Some people in town tolerate the girl's flights of imagination, and
her parents vacillate between wanting to wean her from them and
indulging her. (Mom sets two extra plates at the dinner table, for
example.)

 One day, Rex decides he will settle the matter and decides
to humor the girl. He even offers to take her friends with him to work
at his mining claim, along with Ashmol. At the end of the day, though,
Kellyanne becomes distraught, claiming her father has "lost" her
friends. Reluctantly, he agrees to drive back to the mine to search
for them. While looking for Pobby and Dignan, Rex accidentally
wanders onto the property of rival miner Sid (Robert Morgan) and
is accused of being a "ratter," or someone out to steal another's
claim. Since he really doesn't have a good explanation as to why he
is out at the mines after dark, Rex becomes the town pariah. Annie
loses her job and Kellyanne takes to her bed with a mysterious illness
that confounds the town doctor. It eventually falls to Ashmol to save
the day.

 The boy convinces his father to accept legal assistance from
the town eccentric (Robert Menzies) and gets his sister to draw
pictures of her missing "friends." He then distributes "missing" fliers
around town, much to his father's dismay. Ashmol, though, has come
to realize just how important it is for Kellyanne to have closure.
So much so that he travels to his dad's claim in the middle of the
night and descends into the mine in search of the imaginary duo.
What he discovers, though, is something special that might reinforce
the power of imagination.

 Catteneo directs the film with a relatively light touch and
he manages to avoid too much schmaltz. Colosimo and McKenzie do
terrific work as the parents, with the latter getting a lovely scene
where while sorting through old photographs, her son asks her about
a former boyfriend. It's a touching moment that made me recall
the mother-son scene in one of my favorite films,
BREAKING AWAY.
The youngsters are both quite good. Boyce is a little grating at first
as the indulged and pampered Kellyanne but she gradually earns
the audience's sympathy. Byers is the standout, though. His work
as the practical Ashmol bodes well for a long career, should he wish
to pursue acting.

 I'm sure that some people will react to the film in a negative
manner. Boyce's Kellyanne initially comes across as spoiled and
a bit whiney, but if you've ever been around a youngster with an
imaginary friend, she hits all the right notes.
OPAL DREAM is
a pleasant surprise among the posturing Oscar bait, mindless
comedies and overproduced animated films that are flooding the
marketplace. It's worth a look, because like the title gem, it
contains a multitude of colors and facets that are well worth it.


  Rating:                B
  MPAA Rating:        PG for mild thematic elements, language
                                 and some violence
  Running time:       86 mins.


                    Viewed on a preview DVD
Opal Dream
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.