This film played as part of the New York International Children’s Film Festival.
After a premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival (and a New Zealand release shortly thereafter), not much has been heard stateside from Taika Waititi’s sophomore effort “Boy.” After receiving some fairly positive reviews, many (including this writer) wondered why the film still hadn’t been scheduled for a US release. “Boy” was recently shown as part of the New York International Children’s Film Festival and gave local audiences a chance to view the film, though it became pretty clear why it hasn’t yet appeared in theaters. Though Waititi is probably best known for his work in comedy (his debut “Eagle Vs. Shark”, episodes of HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”), his latest is unexpectedly a step into more dramatic territory.
“Boy” tells the story of 11 year old Boy (James Rolleston) who is obsessed with Michael Jackson and lives on a farm in a small village in New Zealand in 1984. He lives with his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) who believes he has magic powers as well as his grandmother and various younger cousins. Boy spends his time trying to win over school crush Chardonnay as well as idolizing his absentee father. “He can dance as good as Michael Jackson, he’s a master carver, a deep sea treasure diver, soldier, a captain of the rugby team and he holds the record for punching out the most people with one hand.” In reality, Boy’s father Alamein (played by writer/director Waititi) is an incompetent hood serving a prison sentence.
The film starts with a montage where Boy introduces us to his life, via a “Who Am I” class presentation. Boy describes his family, his love for Michael Jackson and adulation for his father in a hilarious and fast paced opening sequence (featured heavily in the films trailer) that seems to set the tone for the film. Only it doesn’t. After a lighthearted 20 minutes, his father returns from prison while Boy's gran is away for the week and the film becomes something a little darker and less whimsical. Alamein uses Boy to help him search for “treasure” (some money he had buried and forgotten exactly where) and it’s assumed once he finds it he and his friends are going to split leaving Boy on his own again.
Much of the plot going forward revolves around Boy and his father's relationship leaving many of the other characters on the sidelines. It’s a shame because the entire cast does really excellent work, Waititi included, but his appearance becomes a lead weight on the narrative nearly sinking the film. It’s clear this is a personal story for the director (not only was the film made in the town Waititi grew up in, it was actually filmed in his house) but the film is 87 minutes and feels like it’s 2 hours. The momentum from the opening dissipates early and without a real engine pushing the movie foward, (other than the eventual realization that maybe his dad isn’t as great as Boy thought he was), it begins to drag.
While the kids at the screening seemed to enjoy the film when it was over, it’s clear why U.S. distributors might be hesitant in releasing it. The accents are thick (and at times indecipherable) and the content (lots of F-bombs, frequent weed smoking and drinking) is not going to get past the ratings board easily. This is clearly a film that should play for kids (as it did at this screening) but it’s unlikely it would reach it’s intended audience with the R rating it’s sure to receive unless edited. Though it’s entirely admirable Waititi didn’t whitewash the film like everything else considered family entertainment these days, the film seems confused as to who exactly it’s meant for. [C]