Movie Review: Oscar-Nominated New Boy

New Boy nominated for an Academy AwardThe 2009 Academy Awards debut next Sunday, and with it awards for all those short movies that no one has ever seen or heard about. One such live-action short nominated for an Oscar is New Boy, Ireland’s 11-minute entry written and directed by Steph Green.

I normally don’t review short films, yet at the same time, they are nice to review. Why? Because they’re short. On the flip side, having not seen a ton of short films in my life, it’s challenging to determine what benchmark to compare them to.

New Boy is a well made, sharp-looking drama about a nine-year old African boy who has just moved to Ireland and is undergoing his first day at class. He is immediately picked on by a couple of boys for no particular reason, and while it looks like he can hold his own, he knows that violence won’t solve the issue in the long run. As he deals with these bullies, he remembers his father back home.

New Boy is a fun little movie that works well both on a comedic and dramatic level. The actors involved, most of them kids, are quite good, including Olutunji Ebun-Cole in the lead role. To establish character bonds in a matter of a few minutes is most likely the most challenging part for a director, yet Green takes advantage of every second his reel is running. While the underlying theme is serious, Green entertains the audience with some rowdy children and a frustrated teacher (played brilliantly by Norma Sheahan) who is at her wit’s end to keep everyone in line. The little girl is also pretty funny.

Still, like I said before, I don’t have much of a benchmark to compare it to. The flashbacks to Joseph’s time in Africa are well done but don’t add a lot of value to the story. There’s clearly something there in terms of what happens to his father, but the current events and those flashbacks don’t sync as well as Green thinks they do. While Ebun-Cole does a good job, there’s not much to latch onto with his character, other than that he’s the new kid and something really bad happened back home. He is more of a vehicle to introduce us to all of the other characters, and yet this wasn’t the intention: both his past and present are meant to be the focus.

Is this too much to ask for in a short film? I don’t know. The movie looks great, is well written and is thoroughly entertaining. Asking for a more developed story may be too tall of an order, but another minute or two could have tied the flashbacks more appropriately into the story at hand.

Nevertheless, if you can spare 11 minutes, New Boy is a worthy picture.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Awards & Oscars, Movie Reviews