UK Release Date: 13th October 2017
Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Taika Waititi
Starring: James Rolleston, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi, RickyLee Waipuka-Russell, Rachel House
Synopsis: A young boy left to run a household by himself struggles to find his place when his father returns from prison and begins looking for an enormous pile of money he buried while on the run.
If you don’t know the bizarre brain of Taika Waititi already, then you will by the end of this month. The eccentric New Zealand filmmaker is set to step into the wild world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in order to helm Thor: Ragnarok, which looks like a truly unique take on the superhero movie. Just about beating the God of Thunder into the cinemas is a re-release of Waititi’s second film – Kiwi coming of age story Boy. It’s a sweet-natured comedy with a big heart that has much of the offbeat quirk of the rest of Waititi’s oeuvre, wrapped up in a deceptively simple plot.
Living in rural New Zealand as part of a crowded household, a young lad known as Boy (James Rolleston) is left in charge of his brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) and cousins when his grandmother leaves for a funeral. He idolises Michael Jackson and tells tall tales about his supposedly super-cool father in order to impress his friends and his crush Chardonnay (RickyLee Waipuka-Russell). One evening, Boy’s roguish father Alamein (Waititi) turns up out of the blue, having spent time behind bars. He begins to form a relationship with Boy, whom he recruits to help dig up some cash he buried before his arrest.
One of the myriad joys of watching Boy is the way in which it sows the seeds for Waititi’s future work. There are hints of the bizarre pseudo-documentary comedy of What We Do in the Shadows as Boy narrates his life and more than a touch of the sweet coming of age feel that powered Hunt for the Wilderpeople. This is clearly a filmmaker enjoying himself and luxuriating in a story that clearly has elements of autobiography, alongside the odd excesses of his central character’s hero worship, whether for Jacko or the rose-tinted caricature he has created of his bad boy father.
It’s a simple setup, but one buoyed by the joyful eccentricity of Waititi’s script and direction, as well as a luminous central performance. James Rolleston is a delight as the weedy title character, who is thrust into the role of ‘man of the house’ at a young age and, as such, is determined to act like the man he feels he should be, even when that leads him astray. He idolises his father, played with a great entitled swagger by Waititi, regardless of his flaws. Through Rolleston’s eyes, Waititi’s character is the epitome of cool, with his sports car and biker gang, even if the car is a bit of a bust and the gang only consists of three people.
Perhaps Rolleston’s most useful attribute is he is simultaneously able to appear intensely awkward and confident beyond his years. He approaches life with a glint of mischief, but showcases real vulnerability in a scene where he attempts to recreate a Michael Jackson dance routine to wow his crush. Waititi elects to hold the scene for far longer than necessary, to amplify the excruciating embarrassment of his protagonist. There are many of these moments in Boy, which is unafraid to take its time to allow the comedy to come organically, rather than forcing in rapid-fire quips.
Boy is a little too light and airy to be a properly forceful coming of age story, lacking in the slightly harder edge of something like Stand By Me, but it works brilliantly as a calling card for a filmmaker who has since gone on to make some of the most singular movies hitting multiplexes. It’s more than just a film for Waititi completists to tick off their list ahead of Thor: Ragnarok; it’s a sweet, silly journey into the heart and soul of a family. And it will also give you a new favourite insult – you egg!
Pop or Poop?
Taika Waititi’s second film seems to sow all of the seeds that would see him grow into the filmmaker he is today, from quirky comedy stylings to a fondness for questioning notions of masculinity.
James Rolleston and Waititi himself excel in roles that allow them to flex emotional muscles as well as comedic ones. It’s a little slight and lacking in depth, but it has more than enough charm to carry itself through to the end.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Boy is in UK cinemas from October 13 and will hit digital download on October 27.