A few months ago I read the young-adult novel Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce and thought it one of the best books of the year. It tells the story of Damien Cunningham, a young British boy who, after the death of his mother, develops a near obsession for Catholic Saints, learning their names, the dates of their lives, and the various responsibilities they now have as those on the Lord’s errand. (Saint Peter is the patron saint of locks, keys and security. Saint Catherine of Alexandria is the patroness of fireworks).
Damien’s mother died in a catholic hospital where the tiny figurines of saints were plentiful, and Damien believes that his mother, because she was so pure and virtuous, must be a saint as well.
Damien finds all these facts about saints at totallysaints.com, a real website created to correspond with the book. It’s a fun site if you have a moment or two.
Damien’s life changes — and the real story begins — when a bag of nearly 230,000 British pounds (that’s money) falls from the sky onto his cardboard hermitage. Damien, believing the money has come from God, sets out to do good and help the poor. But Anthony, Damien’s older and unnaturally money-smart brother, has different plans: they’re going to invest the money. And spend it.
But the clock is ticking. The British are destroying all their pounds and converting their currency to the Europe-wide one, the Euro. So Damien and Anthony have only a limited number of days to get rid of all that cash. And as Richard Pryor taught us so many years ago in Brewster’s Millions, blowing a big wad of cash isn’t as easy as it sounds. And Damien and Anthony, because their children, have an especially hard time of it since no adult will give them the time of day.
The story is wonderful. And the narrative, written from Damien’s point of view, is so sweet and endearing that you want to reach into the pages and adopt the kid.
And that’s why the film is so wonderful as well. Alex Etel, who plays Damien, and who had never acted before in his life, is so convincing as the pure-hearted true believer that you want to sign whatever paperwork is necessary and adopt this kid. Special kudos goes to Danny Boyle, the film’s director, for bringing all of the magic of the book onto the screen.
And the score is wonderful, some of the best upbeat choral music I’ve heard in a long time, the kind that when you listen to it, you just feel grateful for life.
And bravo to Frank Cottrell Boyce for adapting his own novel into one of the best screenplays this year and proving to the Hollywood establishment all clean, family-focused storytelling is alive and well.