Judge Bill Gibron wishes his dad was as wacky, and worthy of attention, as the peculiar pop at the center of this film.
Welcome home, Dad.
Boy (James Rolleston) lives with his little brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) and an odd assortment of relatives and baffling blood relations on a rural island off the East Coast of New Zealand. His grandmother usually takes care of him, but she's often MIA, leaving Boy to fend for himself and the unruly others. Where are his parents, you ask? Well, Boy's mom died giving birth to his sibling and his father, Alamein (Taika Waititi, Green Lantern), is in jail for robbery. Obsessed with Michael Jackson, Boy hopes his dad will come home soon and take him to see his favorite performer (it is 1984, after all). When Alamein does finally make his way back into his son's life, he is everything the long hours of pre-adolescent daydreaming has imagined. He's also brought along a bad habit of slacking, smoking weed, and hanging out with his band of buddies known as The Crazy Horses. Soon, Alamein's motives come into question, and Boy must figure out what he loves more-his son, or something else.
Did you like Eagle vs. Shark? I sure didn't. Still, this follow-up from said film's co-writer/director Taika Waititi (also responsible for episodes of Flight of the Concords) is a decided improvement, if still locked into some of the more questionable creative motives of that previously mentioned movie. For one thing, the filmmaker is also featured as one of our leads, the long lost father of our impressionable title character, and he does a great job of playing failed hero worship. He's everything his myth suggests, and significantly less. Indeed, Waititi is a lot better at holding the center of a film than his Concords cohort Jemaine Clement. He understands the charm of addled eccentricity and parlays his performance into something close to endearing. More significantly, he's grown as a filmmaker. He recognizes that, unless he is aiming for his own obtuse idiosyncrasy akin to Napoleon Dynamite, he has to ground his movie in some manner of reality. In his title character, he does just that, and the back and forth between truth and the unconventional is excellent.
Similarly, we can get behind this story since it focuses almost exclusively on how coming of age often requires the confrontation of the uncomfortable. Boy believes his dad is the bee's knees, and when Waititi first arrives back on the scene, he seems to suggest the same. But as levels of deceit disrupt the fun and as Boy comes to see his father for who he really is, the emotional heft said discovery brings is potent. So if the Michael Jackson material. Since the movie is set in 1984, we can accept the almost god-like worship of the controversial superstar. There are no winks to the camera as Boy fantasizes his dad in Thriller-era poses, though some in the audience may impose their own pedophilic jokes on the entire set-up. Motive is also a disrupting force. Once Boy starts to believe that his dad cares more about some money stashed on the property and not his own son, the shift becomes seismic. Add in the lingering issues regarding his mother's death and the dynamic between himself and the rest of his quasi-kin and you've got a terrific motion picture.
Indeed, Boy ranks right up there with some of the best coming-of-age movies ever. It provides a unique backdrop—the Maori community of New Zealand—that even our current cultural fascination with the country has yet to fully uncover. There's the numerous pop art references (Boy's brother believes he is a Jedi, while Boy eventually calls his Dad "Shogun") and the attention to native heritage and detail is wonderful. Unlike other films that throw sex in the mix as the means of maturity (name one recent example that doesn't have some awkward teen boy chasing an ethereal female version of themselves. Go on. We'll wait.), this is a pure parent/child challenge. It's about missing said guidance at a young age and overlooking obvious common sense warning signs just to have a bit more of it in your still forming life. We all put people on pedestals only to knock them off when the deceive or disappoint. Boy argues for the necessity of said regular rite of passage. After all, once they're down off the block, you can finally see the source of your struggles eye to eye.
Offered by Kino-Lorber in an excellent Blu-ray package, the tech specs here are amazing. The 2010 film (yes, it's taken that long for the movie to make it to America) has a bright and colorful 1.85:1, 1080p transfer that captures its laid back, homemade feel quite well. The movie has all the presence of a big budgeted studio effort, but Waititi manages to make things more personal and singular. There is also a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix which does a great job with the dialogue and the faux King of Pop recreations as well (thanks to its indie ideals, it couldn't afford MJ's music). Added content includes outtakes, interviews, and B-roll footage, as well as Waititi's Oscar nominated short Two Cars, One Night (which is fun), and a trailer.
Equally endearing and bizarre, Boy is one of the best movies of its kind, especially in light of how post-modern movies views the art of growing up. It's a winning and worthwhile look at something that's both universal and highly personal.
Not guilty. A nice little unknown gem.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
• Short Film
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