The most successful New Zealand film of all time – and for the record The Lord of the Rings series doesn’t count, given they were largely funded by American production studios and we all knew Kiwis would never be able to front up that much dosh anyway – is this modest humdinger from director Taika Waititi, who made the so-so quirk-laden dramedy Eagle vs Shark in 2007.
Boy reflects the Australian success of The Castle, in the sense that it is a broadly appealing character-based film devoid of pretension but far from bereft of substance. It is an experience that engenders a strong sense of nationalistic character – this film is Kiwi through and through, like a natively (and thus inherently hilariously) pronounced “six” or a dozen crude sheep jokes – but doesn’t over-indulge in parochialism and never comes close to creating the kind of shonky cultural stereotypes exemplified in, say, The Wog Boy.
The story follows an 11-year-old boy known only by that name – Boy (James Rolleston) – and captures his largely uneventful life in the rural NZ community of Waihau Bay. Boy lives with his grandma, his goat and his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu). Boy’s father Alamein (Waititi) arrives on the scene like a bolt from the blue, but a very lackadaisical and laidback bolt given he too is Kiwi through the through, and the story is essentially about the two of them connecting.
Waititi handles the interpersonal relationships with a lightness of touch that seems to make them sprout organically from the story, a natural by-product of the experience. The film has an effortless charm and manages to be both quirky and widely appealing, and that’s not necessarily an easy feat: often when a director “quirks it up” a film’s appeal becomes somewhat limited, like Waititi’s previous directorial venture.
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The opposite is true with Boy. The stylistic flourishes – wacky editing transitions, flashes of illustrations and cartoons, little dance numbers etcetera – open the film up and make it more accessible rather than less. It has a light and fluffy tone but underneath there is a sadness, a pathos, an emotional core to the relationship between Boy and his father that resonates without needing to draw attention to itself. That sort of effortless takes a lot of, well, effort, and Waititi does a fabulous job disguising what must have been an intensely thoughtful labour of love.
Boy’s Australian theatrical release date: Septemeber 2, 2010.