'Opal Dream" Film plucks gems from the Aussie Outback

By Barry Paris, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Lots of kids in lots of countries have imaginary friends, perhaps especially in the Outback. No offense to any proud Aussies, but the small mining towns of South Australia and New South Wales seem -- well, if not godforsaken, on God's back-burner.

What they're mining for in 11-year-old Kellyanne's little town is opals. It's a tough business in tough territory. But Kellyanne is fragile. She has a fine, hardworking dad and mom (Vince Colosimo and Jacqueline McKenzie), a wonderful older brother (Christian Byers) and two terrific friends named Pobby and Dingan -- who don't exist.

What to do when they suddenly turn up missing? You try to find them. But it's difficult to locate your lost playmates when they're invisible.

That's the issue and community challenge in "Opal Dream," a charming family film directed by Peter Cattaneo (of "Full Monty" fame), opening Friday at Regent Square. His "Opal" stars a Sapphire -- Boyce, by surname -- as Kellyanne, whose haunted eyes bring the popular Ben Rice novel to life.

She also brings trouble, though, to her family. The locals think she's loco. The line between "imagination" and "delusion" is a fine one, or a matter of opinion. It's one thing to have two empty place settings at the dinner table. It's another to have your father and brother hunting -- and trespassing -- in the opal fields in the middle of the night.

They don't find Pobby and Dingan. But they discover a particularly large and beautiful gem that just might be -- the navel of one of them.

Don't ask, don't tell. It would be a shame to reveal more details of the fanciful story or the whimsical way it unfolds. Suffice to say, Kellyanne's dad is accused of being a "ratter" -- a poacher on somebody else's claim -- which makes their hard life harder and leaves it to the brother to save the sister as well as the day.

If little Sapphire Boyce is good, little Christian Byers is better. His fabulous face and soft determination memorably infuse "Opal Dream" with sufficient magic to overcome its inherent melodramatic limitations. There's a silly courtroom-scene "climax," for instance -- but also a very lovely "funeral."

Go figure.

Go see it.

Post-Gazette film critic Barry Paris can be reached at parispg48@aol.com .

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