“Boy Swallows Universe” Is a Spellbinding Tale of Family, Love, and Darkness We Can’t Resist
Warning: this article contains spoilers!
In the gritty streets of 1980s Brisbane, where dysfunction is the norm and family takes on unconventional shapes, “Boy Swallows Universe” emerges as a mesmerising adaptation of Trent Dalton’s 2018 novel. From the get-go, the series doesn’t shy away from the messiness of life, yet it manages to infuse a generous spirit that sets it apart in the world of coming-of-age dramas.
Fans of the best-selling novel can breathe a sigh of relief. The seven-part series on Netflix flawlessly captures the essence of Dalton’s semi-autobiographical epic, weaving love, humour, and hope into the complex tapestry of youth’s temerity and the harsh realities of the drug trade.
An Unconventional Family Dynamic
Led by the charismatic Felix Cameron as Eli Bell, the show introduces us to a cast of outlaws and outcasts who make up Eli’s unconventional family. Eli — alongside his mute brother Gus (Lee Tiger Halley), mother Frankie ( Phoebe Tonkin), and drug-dealing stepdad Lyle (Travis Fimmel) — battles on the fringes of poverty. Lyle’s not-so-down-low heroin dealings keep the household afloat, but Eli’s precocious charm inevitably entangles him in the dangerous world of Lyle’s dealings.
The series follows Eli’s vibrant teenage years, keeping a lively pace that reflects the unpredictability of teen life. It navigates Lyle’s crimes, Frankie’s prison time, and Eli’s journalism journey, all amidst the criminal world of outer Brisbane.
The magical-realist elements, hinted at by the title, add an extra layer of wonder to the narrative. Hallucinatory visions and imagined phone messages provide glimpses into the past and future, creating a dreamlike atmosphere that aligns with a child’s fantastical view of the world.
Flawed Yet Lovable Characters
What’s refreshing about “Boy Swallows Universe” is its ability to approach its flawed characters with compassion. Lyle, the heroin-dealing stepfather, is portrayed not as a one-dimensional villain but as a flawed yet kind-hearted man driven by circumstances. This subtlety helps the series feel relatable, making it easier for viewers to connect with the characters.
While the show delves into some dark and hard-hitting moment, there’s an inherent sweetness that grounds it. At the heart of the series lies the enchanting bond between Eli and his mute brother Gus. As well as their relationships with father figures Lyle and Robert (Simon Baker). As the series progresses, Robert takes centre stage, bringing his issues with alcoholism and agoraphobia to the forefront.
Baker and Fimmel shine their roles as flawed yet loveable characters. The love they hold for the boys shines through, making it easy for viewers to embrace their overt blemishes. Even Frankie, portrayed by Tonkin, rises above victimhood, infusing her character with bravery and eternal optimism.
“Boy Swallows Universe” succeeds in capturing the magic of Dalton’s novel. It blends the harsh realities of crime with the tender bonds of family. Each episode unfolds like a page-turner, leaving audiences craving more. With stellar performances, a gripping storyline, and unexpected twists, this series is not just a viewing experience; it’s an immersive journey into the dark, twisted, and utterly fascinating world of the Bell family.
“Boy Swallows Universe” is available to stream from today on Netflix.
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