City Paper is not for tourists
When you believe in something, that’s when it’s real,” a child intones in this sweet and ultimately moving outback fable, whose moral is familiar from just about every Hollywood fantasy ever made. Platitudes about the magic of belief often sound a cheap hustle when they’re asserted by adults, but Opal Dream dodges con-job status by channeling the consciousness of an 8-year-old girl. Pale, oversensitive Kellyanne Williamson (Sapphire Boyce), who lives in a heat-bleached, close-minded Australian opal-mining town, is protected by her parents and her faithful 11-year-old brother, Ashmol (Christian Byers). Her closest companions, however, are Pobby and Dingan, a pair of imaginary friends. (Pobby and Dingan is the title of the children’s book that inspired the film.) Rex Williamson (Vince Colosimo), a miner, is also something of a dreamer; his great illusion is that he’ll someday find a fortune, and his fate is fused with his daughter’s when the family decides to separate Kellyanne from her invisible pals. Mom (Jacqueline McKenzie) escorts her daughter to a party, while Dad takes Ashmol (and supposedly Pobby and Dingan) to his mine. When the family reunites, Kellyanne announces that her friends are gone. She insists on going to look for them, and when Dad indulges her, he walks into a confrontation with the cranky owner of the adjacent property. Rex is accused of being a “ratter”—someone who steals from neighboring mines—and is summoned to trial. Meanwhile, Kellyanne literally can’t live without Pobby and Dingan. Her health alarmingly declines until Ashmol undertakes a search. Director and co-scripter Peter Cattaneo, whose The Full Monty took a farcical approach to life on the economic margins, here shows an unexpectedly delicate touch. If Opal Dream is lighter than Pan’s Labyrinth, another tale of a girl and her private companions, it’s also less literal-minded: Pobby and Dingan appear only in Kellyanne’s drawings. The movie persuades the audience in much the same way the Williamsons win over the town, and the message turns out to be not the existence of magic but the acceptance of outsiders.