Boy Swallows Universe [9/10]

Based on Trent Dalton’s mega bestselling novel of the same name, Boy Swallows Universe, a lovingly crafted seven-episode streaming show, never flinches from the dark side of the original work. Eli Bell grows up in the harsh light of the bogan drug world of 1980s Brisbane, accompanied by his semi-savant older brother Eli. Even as his parents and stepfather sell and take drugs or alcohol, a naive optimism grips Eli, and both the actors portraying him over a decade, Felix Cameron (especially) and Zax Burgess, convey this superbly. The other actors in a busy ensemble are also superb, with special mention of Simon Baker as Eli’s agoraphobic alcoholic estranged father. The bleak yet somehow lovely background of Brisbane’s grungier suburbs is on full display with lush cinematography and the music score is evocative. The underlying book veered, in my opinion, toward the overly histrionic, but John Collee’s script, and the work of three directors, achieve a powerful balance that marries gritty reality, emotive aspirations, surreal elements, and narrative tension. Boy Swallows Universe is a triumph, definitely the highlight of the 2024 Australian movie/show scene and a worthy aspirant globally.

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