An 11 year-old Maori boy hero-worships his absent Dad until he suddenly shows up fresh from jail and gives him a reality check.
Boy is an absolutely endearing film written/directed and co-starring Taika Waititi who was nominated for an Academy Award for his first short film Two Cars, One Night (and famously pretended to be asleep when the cameras cut to him). This feature builds on the characters from that short film, transporting us back to 1984 when everyone, especially Boy, is in the thrall of ‘Thriller’.
James Rolleston is Boy, the eldest of six kids being brought up by their grandmother on the East Coast of New Zealand in Waititi’s own home town of Waihau Bay. Boy’s mother died giving birth to his brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu), who spends most of his time at his mother’s seaside grave convinced that he has supernatural powers. In the absence of their father, Boy has built up an elaborate fantasy about his whereabouts which involves stories of an impossibly brave war hero, sports star and Michael Jackson look-alike . But when grandma goes off to attend a funeral, all Boy’s delusions are shattered by the sudden appearance of Alemein, the wayward father he’s never met.
Alemein, played by Waititi, is less interested in his sons than he is in finding the stash of cash that he buried in the home paddock before his arrest, but he gradually warms to Boy and enlists him into his small decrepid gang of potheads, The Crazy Horses. A role model, he is not. He has no qualms about raiding a neighbour’s marijuana crop nor giving his son grog. But for a while, Boy thinks he’s got it made, even when his Dad gives him the worst haircut in the history of the universe. His childhood fantasies, however, can’t last forever and as Boy gradually comes of age, reality crashes through.
This is Waititi’s second feature following on from his 2007 outing Eagle v’s Shark, which featured his uni mates from Flight of the Conchords. It’s a very personal film that balances humour with real heart and soul. And it reminds me a bit of Sarah Watts films, which also used naïve animation sequences to express the inner world of characters. There are some lovely magic realist touches too, like when Rocky roller skates towards his father, sparkler in hand, and touches him gently on the forehead in an attempt to cure him of his woes.
It’s these kind of beats that make this film extra special and a hands-down favourite with audiences who gave it top honours at both the Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals. It also scooped the prize for Best Children’s Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Seen through a child’s eyes, it’s a wonderfully original movie that gives us a taste of some quirky dynamics in one dysfunctional family and shows us how fantasies can sustain relationships only so far.Get Boy