Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"It's relentlessly funny but depends in equal part on the charm of its characters and on Boy's sense of wonder at the world."

Taika Waititi's Hunt For The Wilderpeople was one of the most delightful films of 2016, and now the New Zealand director's 2010 film Boy is finally getting a UK release. The heartwarming and occasionally heartbreaking tale of a boy, his brother, his nan, his friends, the girl he likes, his criminal dad, his dad's mates, Michael Jackson, E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial and a lot of money buried in a field ("I know exactly where it is. I buried it a certain number of steps from a post. I just can't remember how many steps. Or which post.") is guaranteed to brighten up autumn days and have audiences laughing out loud even when the subject matter is really quite bleak.

James Rolleston is the titular Boy. He introduces the story at a rapid pace, and we follow him through a patchwork narrative of life seen from a child's point of view. He comes from a community that seems to be full of semi-abandoned children whose fathers are in jail, but none of them really worry about it. Boy's dad (played by Waititi himself) can dance like Michael Jackson and that makes him cool, even if, in his mid thirties, he still behaves like a spoiled child, bullies and exploits his son, and may, in fact, be on the run. He has a cool (if slightly decayed) car, which gives Boy an excuse to ask cynical school beauty Chardonnay (RickyLee Waipuka-Russell) on a sort of date, and Boy is convinced that when the money is found he and his dad will buy a big house in the city together and live in luxury and have their own dolphins.

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The film moves at such a pace that it's difficult to constrain it with any kind of critical analysis. It's relentlessly funny but depends in equal part on the charm of its characters and on Boy's sense of wonder at the world. Any tendency to be sentimental is undermined by cutting humour, occasional moments of bleak realism, and the complexity of the characters, with Boy himself a bit of a bully at times and determined to position himself as a young gangster. Waititi presents us with crowded frames. The children in the background are always up to something; there's too much going on to leave room for inconvenient emotion, and as Boy gradually becomes aware that his dad may not be quite the hero he imagined, the sense that he is starting to shut himself off, to shrink into the restraints of adult masculinity, is complicated by his continued enthusiasm for whatever may lie around the next corner in life.

Though working with a cast full of children may sound like a director's nightmate, Waititi makes it look easy. All of the performances from his young cast are natural and relaxed, and together they portray that combination of resilience and imagination that can make childhood amazing even when adults might perceive it as troubled. There is, of course, no room in the audience for adults who have given up on these aspects of life, but if you want to be reminded how much fun it is to let your imagination loose, this is a film you shouldn't miss.

Boy is available in UK cinemas on 13 October and digital download on 27 October

Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2017
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A Boy and his brother find their fantasy version of their dad is somewhat different to the real deal.
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Read more Boy reviews:

Amber Wilkinson ****1/2

Director: Taika Waititi

Writer: Taika Waititi

Starring: Taika Waititi, James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone

Year: 2010

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: New Zealand

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