Taika Waititi's Boy is a film I had been dying to see for over two years, since I first heard of it when it played at Sundance 2010. I occasionally dug around on the internet to see if there was any news of its U.S. release, and even considered buying an expensive imported copy of the DVD. I just loved the trailer that much. Now that I've finally seen it, I can say that Boy is every bit as funny, quirky, and heartwarming as the trailer made it out to be.
Set in a poor Maori area of New Zealand in 1984, Boy is the story of a boy named Boy (played fantastically by James Rolleston). His mother died while giving birth to his little brother, Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), and his father is in jail, so he lives with his largely absent grandmother and takes care of his brother and several cousins.
Boy worships his father. He sees him as all great things: a samurai warrior, a soldier, and most important of all, his idol, Michael Jackson. When his father, Alamein (played by writer/director Waititi), comes back from his stint in jail, Boy is ready to follow him anywhere. Unfortunately, Alamein is about as bad as a deadbeat dad can be, and is only back home so he can find a bag of stolen money he buried years ago.
While Boy hopelessly dotes on his father, Alamein uses his son to get whatever he wants. He makes Boy dig for his treasure, has him steal weed for him, etc., all the while dangling the empty promise that he'll take him away with him when he goes. Even worse, Alamein can't look his other son, Rocky, in the eyes, still blaming him for his lover's death. In the end, Boy must choose between following in his father's footsteps, or living up to his true potential, whatever that means.
Boy feels very personal and heartfelt, and maybe even partially autobiographical. I don't know for sure if anything like this actually happened to Taika Waititi, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had grown up in a similar situation as this. Waititi utilizes his quirky visual techniques, such as childish hand-drawn animation sequences, and fantasy dance numbers in homage to Michael Jackson's famous music videos for Thriller, to let us into Boy's world. There's also a great soundtrack by New Zealand band The Phoenix Foundation.
Newcomer James Rolleston is excellent as the title character. In fact, all of the children in the movie just feel like real kids. None of them have the artificiality of the type of child actor we get over here in America.
Taika Waititi is funny, too, as Alamein. While definitely a bit misguided, there's a childishness to him that allows you to want to like him, even when he's not exactly behaving like a very good role model for his kids. You hope that maybe he'll grow up one day and take responsibility.
Boy is worth looking into if you see it around. The U.S. theatrical release is pretty limited, but I have a feeling that if you miss it in theaters (or if you're reading this in the fuuuuuuuuuutuuuuuuuuure...), you will be able to find it at some point, on DVD, or streaming. Seek it out, if you can. Great movie.