Millions could eventually become a perennial DVD holiday favorite — a major factor, I’d like to think, in the contrarian plan to premiere director Danny Boyle’s sparkling new family movie now, in this drab, uncelebrated, nonsectarian, late-winter season, when we need it more. Consider: The twinkly hubbub of Christmas comes but once a year, but the call to do the right thing in the face of material temptation is a daily appointment. Plus: Although Millions culminates in December on a patch of northern English suburbia where a kiddie Nativity pageant derails with fantastic consequences, the bright star that appears in the night sky to guide a little boy barely gets a nod.
Come to think of it, evocations of everyday boyhood, with its blur of the ordinary and the magical, are where Boyle has always excelled. I think a similar feel for the cinematic possibilities of laddie gusto links the raving, toilet-diving junkies of Trainspotting with the foaming, flesh-devouring zombies of 28 Days Later. And while the selected Catholic saints who make appearances in Millions neither rave nor foam — on the contrary, shot with matter-of-fact radiance by Dogville cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, they are the gentlest and most inspirational of fellows — Boyle treats them with similar receptiveness, curiosity, and good humor. Indeed, Boyle’s unflappable enthusiasm gives this blithe original story by Frank Cottrell Boyce (a frequent collaborator with Michael Winterbottom and, by the way, a father of seven) its extra bounce of Mad Hatter charm.
Following the death of their mother, spiritually receptive 7-year-old Damian (impish newcomer Alex Etel) and his more hardheaded 9-year-old brother, Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), move to a new home with their father (Bloody Sunday’s James Nesbitt), where each adapts to loss and sadness in his own way. The consumer-oriented Anthony experiments with milking pity from strangers (telling any woman of his orphan status always pays off); Damian works on elevating his mum to the rank of the saints he loves reading about. Then temptation falls from the sky, literally, when a bag crammed with cash shows up, as if by a miracle, at the hideaway in the wild reeds that Damian has built out of discarded packing boxes. The cash is in British pound notes, by the way. The country is about to convert to Euros.
The money that fell from the sky in Sam Raimi’s bleak corker A Simple Plan warped the lives of grown men. That the burden of responsibility — and possibility — falls to kids in Millions is just one of the great twists put to such satisfying use, while Dad (a good parent, managing his own sorrow) does the best he can by offering a new beginning for the boys in a new home. Make no mistake, Millions is still a Danny Boyle film, where absurdity is an everyday occurrence and what takes places inside a guy’s head fights for shelf space with what’s happening in the outside world. But this sincere, delicate, and intrinsically religious comedy may also become that most unexpected of blessings — Danny Boyle’s first family classic.