Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi, Moerangi Tihore, Rachel House
Watch Boy online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Hilarious, heartfelt, hugely charming, Taika Waititi is fast becoming one of the world’s most loved directors. And with a CV that includes vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, coming-of-age adventure Hunt for the Wilderpeople, musical TV gem Flight of the Conchords and Thor: Ragnarok, it’s not hard to see why: whatever genre he turns his hand (and colourful shirts) too, he strikes heart-warming gold.
For a director with such a varied filmography, what’s astonishing is how consistent his tone his. Offbeat, silly and sincere, he’s king of championing the little guy – or, more accurately, finding the insecure little person hidden inside the big guy and teasing them out with affectionate wit. He’s an auteur of cuteness.
As he finds his perfect match in Thor, Marvel’s hulking God of Thunder whose main superpower is bravado, Waititi’s second film (after the quirky indie comedy Eagle vs Shark) has finally arrived on our UK screens – courtesy of Vertigo Films, who snapped up the movie properly, after screening collective MISC Films showed it in London’s Prince Charles Cinema. And what a treat it is. Slotting perfectly into Waititi’s own little universe, it’s a lovely film about boys and fathers, and the gulf that lies between them, or sometimes doesn’t at all.
James Rolleston is adorable as Boy, the 11-year-old who looks up to his dad, Alamein, despite him being a loser criminal. He’s the kind of newcomer who has a constantly open facial expression, conveying the exposed naivety of youth that soaks up all it can of the big wide world. With a brother called Rocky and an obsession with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, his life is as much fantasy as it is reality, a mesh of pop culture and hope that expresses itself in colourful animated segments.
And who else could play his dad other than Waititi? Often stealing the show in his own films, the director is an acute comic presence, excellent at playing daft but equally adept at playing pathetic – his lead role in What We Do in the Shadows is deceptively heartbreaking. He’s perfect for the role of a failed dad, managing to illicit some sympathy by never being mean or indifferent; he’s just useless, unable to even get a cool haircut or decent tattoos to go with his faintly desperate biker image. But Waititi, crucially, is also a generous performer, letting Rolleston take centre-stage, so that the tragedy of Alamein never overshadows the bittersweet growth of Boy, who gradually becomes aware that he’s been hero worshipping a hero who doesn’t really exist.
Will Boy turn out to be like his father one day? That thought would be the downbeat conclusion to draw from the movie, if it weren’t for its relentless sense of humour and uplifting theme of resilience. Boy grows up near New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, and you never lose the feeling that, like the film’s title, the beautiful landscape could almost be named after him: this is a young man with plenty of potential on his horizon. All he had to do was realise it was there. Several years on, how delightful that Taika Waititi undoubtedly has.