Somebody forgot to tell screenwriter Frank Cotrell Boyce (“Code 46,” “24 Hour Party People”) and director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later”) that they were making a movie for kids.
That’s actually a good thing.Much of the charm of the new British comedy “Millions” is that it convincingly deals with adult foibles through a child’s perspective. The movie wrestles with themes like faith and greed in a manner that never seems preachy and is always entertaining.
Boyle’s first of many wise decisions is casting the lovable newcomer Alex Etel as eight year old Damian. The lad has just moved with his father Ronnie (James Nesbitt) and his older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) into a new subdivision. With all the empty cardboard boxes in the neighborhood, Damian can make all playhouses he wants.
Unfortunately, the move comes at a difficult time for the youngsters because their mother has just died. Damian also freaks out his classmates and his brother by constantly jabbering about saints and miracles. Damian knows the names, deeds and birth and death dates for various saints with the same vigor and detail that most kids devote to superheroes. He even has conversations with the saints, although no one else in the neighborhood can see them.
One clever touch that Cotrell Boyce and Boyle add to the film is that viewers are never definitively told if the saints that Damian sees are real or not. They often tell him accurate information but wear halos straight out of a child’s fantasies. As a result, we have to decide for ourselves if the lad is inspired or just a little bit daft.
Damian’s miracles soon become quite tangible when a satchel full of cash falls into his playhouse. For once, Anthony can confirm the event, and the two gleefully count of the nearly 200,000 Pounds of currency at their disposal.
The two brothers have radically different ideas of what to do with the cash. Anthony wants to use the bucks to buy cool electronic trinkets whereas Damian feels the cash is a gift from God and should be given to the less fortunate. Their feud could be short lived because the United Kingdom is finally switching to the Euro, rendering the contents of the satchel worthless.
Much of what keeps “Millions” intriguing is that the discovery of the money leads to more problems than it solves. When a clear cut explanation of the cash’s origin emerges, it upsets Damian and really tests his faith. The brothers’ already tense relationship gets strained by their differing attitudes toward the cash.
Boyle shoots the film in an over the top style reminiscent of the one he used in “Trainspotting.” We see buildings grow from construction sites to full houses in a few seconds. The stylization really helps establish the film as a child’s story because it imbues “Millions” with a sense of wonder and raw emotion.
Some of the talk of currency switchover and other factors might lose a few kids, but adults in the crowd should be grateful that Cottrel Boyce and Boyle have more to build their comedy on than flatulence jokes.The cast is solid, but Atel’s charming performance is the film’s cornerstone. Boyle’s films have sometimes featured unlikable or even abrasive leads, but that’s not the case here. Whenever Atel yells, “Brilliant!” It’s hard not to agree.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival. For more in the 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival series, click here.