If the enigmatic and energetic opening of Taika Waititi’s latest comedy Boy says anything to its audience, it is that we’re in for some imaginative fun. If the nature of Waititi’s previous work (notably Eagle vs. Shark) says anything to us, its that it will certainly be offbeat. Centering around Boy (that’s his name, he’s played by James Rolleston), a young boy living in Waihau Bay, New Zealand, the film has a light and fun feel — but never fails to remind us that there’s emotional depth to be had.
Boy is a creative, charismatic little guy who hasn’t seen his father in a long time. He lives in 1984, where Michael Jackson is king. He also lives on a farm with his grandmother, his brother, Rocky (who may or may not have magic powes), and several of his young cousins. When his gran leaves for a week to attend the funeral of an old friend, Boy’s father Alamein (Waititi) shows up with his two friends, a gang of hooligans who are in search of a secret stash of money that he buried deep in the ground years ago.
There’s more to the story, of course, but for the most part that’s it. The boy’s father is not exactly a good role model, and even though we can see it right away, he can’t. This leads to some interesting coming-of-age moments for Boy, where the audience is delighted by some offbeat situational comedy. Boy is also in the midst of courting a young lady named Chardonnay. These things always seem to happen right when your loser father shows up to have you help him get back into the criminal life, doesn’t it.
To draw a parallel outside Waititi’s previous work, I would say that Boy feels a lot like Son of Rambow. The little brother Rocky sees daydreams in the form of hand drawn animation and parts of the movie exist in fantasy sequences (included several hilarious Michael Jackson style dance sequences that involve Cohen). And it works. The movie has a similar charm, and if it weren’t for the feeling a bit flat down the stretch, this would be an easy recommend. The flatness comes due to a lingering of the father’s many tangential storylines. Sadly, all of these added storylines have small elements that fit into the rest of the film. So who could cut them.
Thematically, this movie is a very sweet take on growing up. And the various stages of growing up. Boy, his brother Rocky and his infantile father all take the journey together, mixing their real lives with fantasy elements. There are also plenty of very funny moments, most driven by well-delivered dialogue. It creates awkward situations in which Waititi’s usual brand of offbeat characters thrive. As I said, it makes for a sweet, imaginative ride, even if it does have a few bumps.