Cracker by Damian Christie

73

About a Boy

Writing a review (of sorts) some four weeks' after a film is released might seem a little redundant. It might seem even more redundant when the film in question has already become the most successful New Zealand comedy film of all time – although when you look at the competition, that might not be the greatest compliment, or highest achievement. That title also belies the fact that Taika Waititi's latest long-player, Boy, is so much more than a comedy film.

The fact it took me almost four weeks to get to see the film shouldn't be taken as a sign I didn't care. First, it premiered on my birthday (March 25th, take note), so I spent much of the rest week drinking, eating and generally being "carried on the arms of cheerleaders" (my favourite line from a song by The National). Then there was a vague nervousness. I'd read a review somewhere, Metro perhaps, and spoken to someone at work, both of which/whom said the film "had its moments" but were let down for various reasons. Knowing Taika a little bit, and liking him a lot, and championing him since I first discovered 2 Cars, 1 Night, I wanted Boy to be brilliant.

So after stuffing ourselves at yum cha the way only two hungry people who want to try everything can, we tootled along to St Lukes cinema. It was an indifferent Saturday afternoon - the sort of afternoon I've found are perfect for a quiet spot of film watching. Boy was, it seemed, the only film there not showing in 3D.

Within a few minutes, the fears I had were put to rest. The film is beautifully shot, beautifully realised, funny and moving in just the right proportions. The two main juvenile leads, Boy and his brother Rocky, are both naturals. For me Rocky, the younger brother, steals the show, with his understated delivery, the uncertain relationship with his itinerant father and of course, his superpowers.

Having spent a holiday out on the East Cape, I'm familiar with the landscape. It's an interesting part of the country, equal parts rugged, rural and stunning. Growing up in Waiouru I can't claim to know poverty as such, but I know what it's like to spend a day playing in scrub, or tussock, letting my imagination filling in the blanks, practising my superpowers. In my day it was The Greatest American Hero. He had a few problems flying too, and everytime I launched myself into the air I was convinced the split second before I face planted into gravel was ever-so-slightly longer than the time before. And I think most of us can recall hanging around a dairy or general store with our friends, scrounging together money for popsicles, or Defender.

For me then, the comedy is pitch perfect. In the 80s we all knew swear words, but somehow calling someone "dick fritter" had more impact than dropping the f-bomb. There's also a lot of fun to be had courtesy of the only leading character who never actually appears on screen, a Mr Michael Jackson. He's a Maori, by all accounts.

One reviewer said he thought some of the film's more emotional moments were ruined, or at least didn't reach their full potential because the director would cut to a gag. I didn't see such sharp contrasts, and I don't see such a divide between emotion and humour. For example, the last line (at least from memory it's the last) delivered by Rocky at the cemetery is hilarious, but reinforces the poignancy. But that's just me. Oh, and everyone else I've spoken to who laughed, cried and laughed some more.

While this is a review (of sorts) and not a review of reviews (of sorts), I should mention that likewise, I had no problem with Taika's performance as Boy's father, I think anyone who expected an intense Jake The Muss type is missing the point: this character is supposed to be a bit of a dick, a grown-up who has formed a gang with his two mates, a man who refuses to grow up and face his responsibilities. It's hardly a personality unknown to most of us.

I say this is a review (of sorts) but I don't know what else to say. It's brilliant, right down to the credits (which were an unexpected treat, I'll say no more). It's the right length and contains some brilliant performances, particularly from the two boys. It's shot beautifully and has great, natural, funny dialogue. It made me feel at various times a lot happier and a lot sadder than Where the Wild Things Are ever did, and that cost bloody heaps. See it.

(In other Boy-related news, if you haven’t already heard the radio interview Dominic Corry (aka bFM’s Fabian Fanboy) and I did with Taika Waiti just before the film’s premiere, check it out here, and also the kinda funny clip we did for nzherald.co.nz with 20 quick fire questions.)

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