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Opal Dream
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Maybe Not A Diamond, But Some Kind of Small Gem"
4 stars

When it debuted in 1997, the British comedy-drama “The Full Monty” was such an international success–it grossed over $100 million worldwide and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture–that prognosticators at the time might have assumed that director Peter Cattaneo would become the hot new go-to filmmaker for anyone trying to put together a whimsical bit of froth. And yet, for unknown reasons, Cattaneo more or less disappeared from view and when he finally reemerged in 2002 with the silly prison comedy “Lucky Break,” no one really seemed to care and it quickly disappeared from view, at least in America. As a result, nearly a decade after hitting the jackpot, his second post-“Full Monty” effort, the 2005 family film “Opal Dream,” is only now getting a token theatrical release here in a few locations–most likely to satisfy some contractual obligations regarding the already-announced March DVD release. This is kind of a shame because while it isn’t quite a buried treasure along the lines of Carroll Ballard’s “Duma,” it has a quiet charm and grace to it that has become increasingly rare in family-oriented entertainment.

Set in a remote mining town in the Australian outback, the film introduces us to Kellyanne Williamson (Sapphire Boyce), a young girl who has a pair of imaginary friends named Pobby and Dingan with whom she spends all of her time. For the most part, the majority of the locals look at her as just a girl with a big imagination and play along with the idea that Pobby and Dingan actually exist. Her family, on the other hand, is beginning to feel otherwise–brother Ashmol (Christian Byers) thinks that she is a freak and her parents (Vince Colosimo and Jacqueline McKenzie) are trying in their own separate ways to get her to drop her invisible pals for some real ones. To this end, her father offers to take the two out to the mines, where he has staked a claim in search of opals, with him for the day while she goes to a neighborhood pool party. She reluctantly agrees, has a miserable time and when her dad comes home that night, she announces that Pobby and Dingan are missing and that they must still be back at the mine.

When Kellyanne won’t calm down, her father takes her and Ashmol to the mining area to look for them and are caught by a rival miner who suspects that they are trying to horn in on his claim. As a result, Dad is arrested and tagged as a claim-jumper, leading to the family being shunned by virtually the entire town. To make matters worse, the separation from Pobby and Dingan takes its toll on Kellyanne and she is stricken with a mysterious illness that seems to grow worse with each passing day. Although he resists for the longest time, Ashmol finally breaks down and agrees to continue the search for the duo in the hopes that it will make Kellyanne feel better. After checking out their favorite haunts and putting up posters all over town, Ashmol makes his way back to the mines and makes a surprising discovery that winds up affecting the entire town in general and his sister in particular.

Based on this description alone, I can see how many of you may be willing to write off “Opal Dream” as an especially cloying children’s film and for a while, I was feeling that way myself. And yet, even though it dances on the edge of utter smarminess, it never tips completely in that direction because of the relatively light and surprisingly realistic touch that Cattaneo brings to the material. Instead of giving us a hissable villain and clueless parents, for example, we are given characters whose behavior is perfectly acceptable under the circumstances–we can see why the miner might make the accusations of claim-jumping and we can understand why Kellyanne’s parents are trying to get her to play with flesh-and-blood people with the enthusiasm that she brings to her imaginary friends. Even more impressive is the manner in which the film deals with the whole Pobby-Dingan situation–without giving anything away, the final third of the film is an impressive balancing act that never allows the material to devolve into pure fantasy while maintaining the possibility that the two may not be just figments of Kellyanne’s imagination after all.

“Opal Dream” isn’t a perfect film by any means–some of the opening scenes are a little too cute for their own good and I could have lived without any of the courtroom scenes that do nothing more than distract from the main storyline. However, it does have a sweet spirit and it soon becomes clear that it has more on its mind than trying to sell toys and Happy Meals to audiences. Instead, “Opal Dream” is a family-oriented film that doesn’t merely play lip-service to the power of imagination–it actually demonstrates some of its own.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15348&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/19/07 02:27:52
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