This is probably the biggest summer surprise out of New Zealand since What We Do In The Shadows, which is not all that surprising, since it’s from the same guy, writer/director Taika Waititi (who also played Viago in the vampire “documentary”). What’s more surprising, perhaps, is that it’s a traditional movie that is far richer than the excellent Shadows.
I was jokingly referring to it as “Live Action Up“, because the main character is a fat Asian (close enough) kid in a baseball cap, but whereas Up‘s protagonist was a (literal) Boy Scout, our hero here is a ne’er-do-well, who loiters, litters, spits, and does all kinds of reprehensible things on his pathway to adult criminal hood.
This, as explained by the social worker who delivers him to the farm owned by Hec (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park, The Dish) and Bella (Rima Te Wiata, Housebound). When Ricky (Dennison) decides to run away, and to be sullen, and to cause trouble, it is the earthy Bella who wins him over, while Hec seems to have little use for him.
These are great scenes, both touching and hilarious, but the movie really kicks into high gear when Hec and Ricky find themselves in the New Zealand outback, running from the law, through a series of unfortunate misunderstandings that result in the beleaguered Hec being sought after as a pederast.
This is a great, straight-up adventure film, to be sure, of the sort we don’t get much any more. On top of that, it has real emotional depth with great performances from the three principles, backed by a comical portrayal of a social-worker-turned-Tommy-Lee-Jones-in-the-Fugitive, among many others.
You can’t help but like New Zealanders while watching this. And that’s really a good thing for a film. A lot of European films (and probably most American films) are awash in varying degrees of self-loathing. I think the most American-loving films in the past 20 years (if not the past 70) are foreign films like The World’s Fastest Indian and even the Persian Jimmy Vestvood: American Hero.
And it does this while presenting addled hippies, paranoid survivalists, overzealous civil servants and what must be the equivalent of rednecks for New Zealand.
Interesting thing: Ricky carries a rifle for most of the film. This is not presented as a remarkable thing, nor is the gun cast in any sort of mystical evil shadow, as is the style in this country. He does good with it. He does bad with it. Nobody blames the gun for anything.
Anyway, The Boy and I loved it. It may rank as our favorite film of the summer. I see some rumors that Waititi may turn his attention to the next Thor movie to which I say, “Well, good for him, and I guess, good for comic book fans.” But, damn, I’d like to see him keeping on doing what he’s been doing.