Boy might be a silly 11-year-old who thinks he knows everything, but that doesn¹t mean his story can’t have genuine emotional depth and some good jokes.
Taika Waititi’s film - his second full-length feature after Eagle vs Shark – is set somewhere in the eighties, far out in the back end of nowhere.
Boy, played by newcomer James Rolleston, might be a long way from the big city and his idol Michael Jackson, but he still has his whanau - a huge network of cousins, aunties and uncles who provide most of the film’s laughs.
The first 20 minutes of the film are some of the funniest moments in recent New Zealand cinema as it finds humour in the roughest of situations, and there are plenty of funny parts spread throughout the film, with a strong dramatic backdrop.
It’s more than just laughing at the way the world has changed since the 1980s. The setting is not just about Michael Jackson, bad fashion and calling everybody an egg; it’s also a place where a grandmother can leave an 11 year old in charge of half a dozen younger kids, (forcing them to eat crayfish every night), or teachers who swear back at their pupils.
The film is about growing up - which means more than growing a sad moustache. It’s about facing reality and learning that fantasy has its place.
Rolleston is excellent in the title role – a charming little rogue who thinks he’s got the whole world sorted out, and there is also a star turn from Waititi, playing Boy’s dad Alamein the biggest boy in the film.
Fresh out of jail and obsessed with the hundreds of dollars he stashed in a field somewhere, Alamein is a busy man, refusing to grow up or deal with his grief or any kind of responsibility. Waititi still finds some pride in Alamein’s relentless failure, giving his character real emotional heft.
It’s no surprise that this star turn saw him snapped up by Hollywood for the upcoming Green Lantern film. Waititi is playing the super hero’s best friend from the original comics, an Inuit once affectionately nicknamed Pieface, ensuring he will be following in Cliff Curtis¹ footsteps by playing every ethnicity on the planet.
If Waititi is heading off to play a succession of Inuit, Arab and vaguely Latin American roles, it’s fitting that the film that is launching him out there is a fundamentally Maori film. Boy says more about Maori culture than far bleaker films set in that world and doesn’t need to rely on heavy-handed moralising to get its point across.
Instead, Boy uses humour to show that life on the poverty line in rural New Zealand can be hard, but that there is not reason not to have a good laugh about it. It shows that whanau can be the best support system in the world, but that there is also a bucketload of responsibility coming back the other way.
Boy is a very funny and surprisingly thoughtful film of buried treasure, lost Mums, super-powers and Michael Jackson. It has one of the saddest scenes involving a goat to ever appear on screen, but still manages to be one of the funniest films in ages. Anybody who misses out on it is a total egg.
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