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Waihau Bay, New Zealand, 1984. “Boy” (James Rolleston) lives on a farm with his gran, his little brother, younger cousins and a goat. When his gran leaves for a week, Boy’s estranged father, Alamein (Taika Waititi) turns up, and Boy struggles to reconcile the legendary figure he created in his dad’s absence, and the incompetent waster who’s turned up out of the blue. What transpires is a summer of girls, gangs, drugs, weirdos, magic powers, Michael Jackson and buried treasure.
Not as quirkily comedic as Eagle Vs Shark, nor as broadly humorous as What We Do in the Shadows, Boy is filled with an innocence and sincerity that places it closer, thematically to Hunt for the Wilderpeople. There’s heart and imagination within Boy that is incredibly warming. Taika Waititi does exceptionally well at recounting the wide-eyed wonder of youth, the hard-fought friendships and the gutting reality of your heroes not measuring up to expectations. Setting the film in an area where he grew up adds a verisimilitude to the characters and the world they inhabit.
James Rolleston is disarmingly endearing as a performer. Watching him interact with Waititi evokes memories of young Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild (only with a lot less crying on my part). The pair have a natural chemistry which permeates the screen. Boy falls over himself to ingratiate to his father, who is immature, feckless and selfish, and despite the off-putting traits we see in Alamein, you still want to see both father and son succeed.
An element that Waititi handles perfectly is the balance of pluck and melancholia. Loss and disappointment intermingle on screen with a child’s boasts as he tells whopping-great tall tales of his father’s exploits. It’s silly and tragic all at once, which runs through the core of the film. Humour and poignancy in equal measure.
Boy is an utter delight of a feature. A compelling story with charming characters that will warrant a revisit before too long. It’s a sincere hope that Waititi returns to modest cinematic fayre once he’s finished cavorting with Norse gods and Incredibly big green men.
Boy is out in UK cinemas on 13th October and available on digital download on 27th October.
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