Director: Taika Waititi | Runtime: 1h 27mins | Comedy, Drama
1984 and 11-year-old Maori kid Boy (James Rolleston) is waiting for his convict father, Alamein (Taika Waititi), to come back from prison. Throughout his absence, Boy created many stories lionising Alamein, even though his return is just to find a bag of money buried somewhere in the family farm.
Hitting massive mainstream success with 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok and the recent announcement of his return with Thor: Love and Thunder, Taika Waititi is a hot property in Hollywood right now bringing his unique humour and style to a wide audience. This style was made from his early days in New Zealand though, as his career progressed it became apparent that not only was he far more confident as a filmmaker, but there was something special about his work. The first feature that reached both critical and commercial acclaim is our newest Editor’s Pick – Boy (2010).
Right from the start there are two wonderfully entertaining talents at play; Waititi’s writing and direction is colourful, with excellent character introductions through narration from James Rolleston, whose portrayal of Boy is the anchor the film needs to ascend above being just a odd-ball, charming family drama.
For someone outside of New Zealand to watch an older Waititi piece, it really is a culture shock, not stopping to dilute anything for the international audiences. It isn’t off-putting though, and instead works as a fascinating backdrop to the eclectic characters on display. The farm isn’t a busy, profit machine like some further west, instead broken down cars and all forms of abandoned machinery litters the surrounding fields – most likely a slight metaphor for the young boy and his family inhabiting the area.
Rolleston may be the anchor for the film, but the brother to Boy really brings the audience in emotionally that none of the other can. Whilst filming Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu was only around 9-10-years-old, but plays the character of Rocky in a way many young inexperienced actors would struggle with. He believes himself a superhero as their mother died during his birth, and the family use this as an explanation to stop him from blaming himself.
Most of the narrative revolves around two aspects of Boy and the relationship with his father, the early sequences include him giving excuses as to why Alamein isn’t around, war stories and ones based around being a Japanese samurai clearly are fiction created by Boy in an effort to make an idol for himself. Even as he does start to see the real version of his father, he tries to cover for it with more fantastically sequences: a bar fight in which Alamein and his ‘crew’ are easily dealt with is more of a dance/fight for Boy which ends very differently.
These fictitious stories by Boy aren’t the only break from reality, as a flip-style animation is a recurring theme throughout, especially for Rocky. He uses it to visualise the powers he thinks he has and shows us a side he struggles to vocalise, the loving side in which he does still blame himself for their mothers death. These escapism’s don’t just serve as quirky, fun sequences however, as each one feels narratively relevant and often thoughtful character moments, showing us a deeper side of the culture many might not have seen, as the younger of the Maori are exposed to the fantastically pop culture of the west (particularly the US) without any real grounding in reality, letting their imaginations run wild.
It is genuinely heartbreaking to see the character Boy has created for Alamein be broken in front of his eyes, instead revealing a selfish, quite ordinary immature man who never really wanted to be a father. To date it’s definitely one of Waititi’s most affecting and best films, only really surpassed by Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016), an excellent drama of a dysfunctional father/son relationship littered with the unique humour he’s become known for, Waititi really started to hit his stride here.