Sunday, February 08, 2009

Nominated Short: New Boy

His entire so-called Barrytown Trilogy has been adapted into the well received films: The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van, the first directed by Alan Parker and the latter two by Stephen Frears. Yet, the latest cinematic adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s work has been seen by relatively few people, despite receiving an Academy Award nomination. That is because it is a dreaded short subject, one of those unheralded awards that are dispensed with early in the Oscar broadcast. At least two of those nominated shorts this year are in fact quite good, including writer-director Steph Green’s New Boy, based on a Doyle short story, now playing at the IFC Film Center as part of the package of Oscar nominated live-action shorts.

It is young Joseph’s first day in a new school and it is conspicuously obvious he is not Irish. Derisively called “Live Aid” by one of the school’s Hellions, he is clearly in for a long day. On the plus side, the feisty class brain, Hazel O’Hara, clearly takes a real shine to him. In between class-work and standing up to bullies, Joseph flashes back to his tragic final days in Africa, when the war and strife of the outside world roughly intrudes into the loving shelter of his school.

Olutunji Ebun-Cole and Sinead Maguire display enormous screen charisma, as Joseph and Hazel respectively. Spending an entire feature-length film with them might be enough to induce diabetes, but in New Boy’s brief but effective eleven minutes, their sweet charm is undeniable. While the characters of Joseph’s would-be tormentors and clueless new teacher are not nearly as sharply drawn, New Boy’s brevity probably necessitates a certain reliance on stock characters.

Cinematographer P.J. Dillon’s rich, warm visual style serves the heartfelt film quite well, particularly during the light saturated flashback scenes. Although the narrative does not really hold any earth-shattering surprises, the final payoff is reasonably satisfying. The real attraction in New Boy though is its winning lead performance from Ebun-Cole and Maguire’s endearing supporting turn. It screens as part of the nominated shorts package playing at the IFC Film Center and at various Academy sponsored events leading up to the February 22nd awards broadcast.