Taika Waititi’s new feature film Boy opened this year’s imagineNATIVE festival. Already a huge hit in New Zealand, it’s quite easy to see why. It’s a lovely and bittersweet coming-of-age story with engaging characters and a rather wonderful look back at the innocence (and pain) of growing up.
The film is set in New Zealand in the mid-80s, when Michael Jackson’s Thriller album has just hit it big. It tells the story of a highly imaginative young boy (called “Boy”) on brink of adolescence. He and his little brother Rocky, and several of his younger cousins, live with their Nana in a small coastal town. Boy’s mother passed away years ago, and he hasn’t seen his father since. But he clearly idolizes his dad, and makes up all sorts of stories about what he’s up to – being a soldier, a deep sea diver – anything except the truth that he’s simply been absent and has done a stint in jail.
When Boy’s grandmother leaves town to attend a funeral, his dad Alamein unexpectedly shows up and he re-introduces himself to the sons he barely recognizes. Actually home to find his buried stash of stolen loot, Alamein spends some time with the boys, taking them to the beach, and slowly getting to know them. It turns out he’s far more of a kid than his 6- and 11-year old sons. As Alamein’s search for cash takes longer than expected, he becomes frustrated, and he starts taking it out on those around him – his friends, his mother, and his sons. Boy gets a clearer vision of his father and is forced to grow up as he realizes that Alamein is just a man – not the hero Boy has built him up to be.
There are several negative elements depicted in the film – gangs, everyone seems to smoke cigarettes and/or pot, there’s lots of drinking, fighting, and some domestic violence. Yet despite this, I walked away feeling very positive, my view of the film more affected by depictions of love and affection; Boy and his brother and cousins take care of each other, Boy and his friends are tight, their Nana (though hardly seen) clearly adores them all. And as we learn more about Boy’s mother and her tragic death in childbirth, even their father’s deficiencies becomes more understandable. Alamein without his wife is sort of like a boat without a rudder, directionless, with seemingly no ability to sort out his life.
The two young actors at the heart of this drama were unbelievably good. James Rolleston as Boy has tremendous energy and a wide, infectious smile, charming everyone with his stories and big dreams. There’s also a wonderful physicality to his performance, whether he’s trying to imitate Michael Jackson dance moves, or flying around the beach playing war and pretending his piece of driftwood is a machine gun. Te Aho Eketone-Whitu as the younger brother, Rocky, plays his part to quiet and understated perfection. The character is introverted, observant, and just plain strange (he thinks he has special powers) – and disconcerts others with his deep stares. There’s a great deal going on behind those eyes.
The film’s director, Taika Waititi, also stars in the film as Alamein. Though the character is highly flawed (let’s face it – he abandoned his kids, he’s in a gang, he gets drunk and high and fights around his kids, and he has anger management issues), Waititi manages to prevent Alamein from becoming a “Bad Father” caricature. You feel Alamein’s pain, his confusion and guilt, his sense of loss.
The fact that it was set in the mid-1980s and is full of fantastic things like early microwave ovens and songs like “Pass the Dutchie,” could have brought the film down to the level of nostalgia. But the performances are too real for that, and so is the attention to detail (like the use of NZ archive footage on the television). A simple story, both funny and tragic, with engaging and flawed (yet redeemable) characters. Oh, and as a special treat, there’s also a dance number at the end of the film – sort of a Thriller / Haka with all the cast members. Hilarious.
The festival runs until October 24th, so you still have a couple of days to explore the films on offer.
Latest posts by Pam Fossen (see all)
- The Year in Movies: 7 films I finally got around to in 2012 – December 19, 2012
- Today on the Scene: screenings and film fun for Friday, November 30, 2012 – November 30, 2012
- Today on the Scene: screenings and film fun for Thursday, November 29, 2012 – November 29, 2012