Critically acclaimed New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s latest film, “Boy,” is a hilarious and heartfelt coming of age story, spiked with a twist of ’80s island pop culture. Not only has the film been greeted with much critical success, but it is also currently the number one all−time box office performer in New Zealand.
Taking place in a sleepy rural town on the East Coast of New Zealand, “Boy” tells the story of a young native Maori boy (James Rolleston), who’s an avid Michael Jackson fan and spends his free time idealizing his imprisoned father. When the boy’s father Alamein (Taika Waititi) returns home to find a bag of money he buried years ago, the boy is confronted with a man he thought he remembered.
“Boy’s” mise en scene perfectly captures the quiet rural feel of New Zealand. Director Taika Waititi is a native to the Raukokore coast, and the film appears to be an accurate recreation of his own childhood memories.
When it comes to writing a script, a common adage for authors is to “write what you know.” This was certainly Waititi’s approach when it came to tackling this movie. The screenplay and cinematography of “Boy” immerse the viewer in the film’s exotic locale. Waititi wastes no time in painting the scene, delivering sweeping vistas and elegantly capturing the untouched idyllic beauty of New Zealand’s rural eastern coast from the get−go. Boy is seen throughout the majority of the film in a dirty off−white tank top, covered in myriad ’80s pop culture logos, “Tron” (1982) included. The wardrobe provides a convincing blend of rural culture mixed with western influence, and, before the title card even drops, the audience is ensconced in a pastoral ’80s New Zealand environment.
The opening scene takes place in an old elementary school building on the water. Stuck in the dilapidated structure, overflowing with uninterested Maori kids, Boy proudly goes to the front of the class to conduct a presentation about his amazing father. The hyper−imaginative cutaways are goofy and fun, setting unrealistically high expectations for his absent father. When Alamein finally returns to his two children, his ineptitude as a father is shockingly apparent and immediately begins to clash with Boy’s expectations.
Boy’s brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone−Whitu), the younger and less mature of the pair, seems less receptive to the prospect of their father changing for the better than his fantasy−struck older brother. Rocky’s own imagination manifests itself through animation sequences, usually involving explosions or mystical healings. His imagination is simple, without tangible limits, and contrasts with Boy’s vivid live action cutaways.
Though Rolleston and Eketone−Whitu were not actors before appearing in the film, it certainly didn’t show. They both delivered stellar performances, capturing audiences with their charming accents and punchy delivery.
The boys’ imaginations are contrasted with their father’s grand delusions at several points. Alamein’s distorted vision of himself is the most disturbing, because it prevents him from contributing to society, and above all stops him from being a decent dad. While Alamein has moments when he wins the affection of his children, he always manages to muck up the situation in the end. Waititi’s performance is thoroughly convincing, as he is able to capture the aforementioned negative elements while simultaneously conveying an element of sympathy for Alamein’s general naivete.
It becomes evident that “Boy” is less about the two brothers’ relationship with their father and more about their own relationship. Boy shows a recurring desire to escape his seemingly hopeless situation and find his true potential, and the only person he can consistently rely on is his brother. Such serious subtext is delivered during the course of the film, but it meshes quite well with the overall playful tone. This is achieved with witty and playful dialogue, keeping the mood light and manageable.
“Boy” successfully captures the culture and beauty of New Zealand, delivering a charming tale of a dysfunctional family that explores the magnificence of imagination and its intersection with the harsh realities of life. The exceptional performances from child actors Rolleston and Eketone−Whitu help capture this disparity, adeptly delivering fun and serious scenes with equal skill. Native New Zealander or not, you’ll no doubt fall in love with the beautiful landscapes and people, the infusion of imaginative fun and that ’80s flair.