||There are times when cinematic heart-tugging takes on the character of a frontal assault. “Opal Dream” is one of them. The film by Peter Cattaneo (“The Full Monty”), an adaptation of a novella by Ben Rice, centers on the Williamson family in the mining region of South Australia. Dad Rex (Vince Colosimo) runs a one-man operation digging on a small claim for opals while supportive wife Annie (Jacqueline McKenzie) tends to their two children, Ashmol (Christian Byers) and Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce). The brother is a normal, spunky, helpful kid, but his younger sister lives in the clouds, devoted to her imaginary playmates Pobby and Dingan.
Kellyanne is supposed to charm us with her odd obsession, but over the course of the film you’re more likely to find her not only irritating, but positively unbalanced. The height of her baleful influence on the family comes when she claims that her two buddies have disappeared while on a trip with her dad and insists they go out looking late at night for them. The expedition leads to an accusation by a nasty neighboring miner that Rex was “ratting”—that is, trespassing on his claim. This immediately leads the townsmen to turn against the Williamsons, and a court case in which Rex must face legal charges. Making matters worse. Kellyanne falls ill over the thought of her friends’ “death.”
At this point, happily, Ashmol largely takes over, and things turn out well as the court case takes a positive turn for the family and the boy stages an event designed to bring everyone together and revivify Kellyanne’s spirits (her own, not the imaginary ones she’s convinced are her bosom buddies).
What enjoyment one takes from “Opal Dream” is likely to come from the efforts of Byers, a personable kid whose performance has a fresh, natural quality that’s very winning. But he can’t carry the entire movie on his small shoulders. Colosimo and McKenzie get by—him more than her—on the basis of sheer energy, as the material afforded them is so thin. But Boyce is a very wan and stilted a presence in what is, after all, the role that’s the linchpin of the plot. The supporting cast is filled with colorful character types who do what they can with their parts, but that’s not much. And technically the picture has the rough, rugged look of so many low-budget Australian flicks.
But it’s not the rather grubby appearance of “Opal Dream” that sinks the movie. It’s the thinness of its emotional reach. Apart from Byers, this film has little to offer beyond wishful thinking.