In the Picture
Directed by Taika Waititi
Hugely popular in New Zealand, Boy is their highest grossing film, and an incredible tour de force from director, writer and actor Taika Waititi. This is only Waititi’s second feature film after Eagle Vs Shark, though he is well known from his TV episodes of Flight of the Conchords. A distinctly Kiwi film, Boy is set in the largely Maori community of Waihau Bay on New Zealand’s rural east coast. It is a most ingenious story, both funny and heartfelt; and it moves fairly easily from comedy to drama, while remaining quite modest in its ambitions. But it always remains poignant and caring for each of the characters involved.
The film is set in 1984, and it is a coming-of-age story of 11-year-old Boy (James Rolleston). He lives in a rundown house with his Nan (Mavis Paenga), his young brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu) and a brood of deserted young cousins. He is a dreamer who is obsessed with both Michael Jackson and his missing father Alamein (Waititi). He fantasises that his father is a deep-sea diver, a war veteran, rugby captain and a close relation of Michael Jackson, while, in reality, his father is an incompetent crim who has been in jail for seven years.
Nan leaves Boy in charge of the young family when she drives off to a distant funeral, and Alamein suddenly arrives with his equally incompetent Crazy Horse Gang. Alamein has returned to find a bag of stolen money he buried years ago. The drama develops as Boy begins to see through the fantasy he had created around his father, who is, in many ways, more childish than his sons, and also hopelessly irresponsible.
The performances by the young actors are nothing short of fantastic. James Rolleston had only entered the film as an extra when the director determined that the planned lead actor had had too much of a growth spurt. The younger Eketone-Whitu is also brilliant. The maturity and perceptiveness in his role are outstanding... and the comedy. Young Rocky believes he has special ‘powers’, and his cartoon fantasy sequences add another dimension to the film.
There are some uneven shifts from comedy to drama in the latter part of Boy, but there are so many highlights, and the film always maintains an endearing warmth and wisdom. There is even a Michael Jacksonesque dance finale.
Boy is often hilarious and quite wacky, but it is also very touching.
A wonderful, simple and fantastical film.