In the end, the choice between free screenings to Boy and The Girl Who Played with Fire was made for me. It took me so long to post my homework (from my writing course) that by the time I was done, the only feasible option was Boy (which was playing at a closer venue).
So how was the highest grossing New Zealand film of all-time? Surely all those Kiwis can’t be wrong, right?
Well, in my humble opinion, Boy is not as mind-blowing as some might expect, but for a low budget New Zealand comedy-drama by a second-time writer-director (Taika Waititi, who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2003 short film, Two Cars, One Night), it’s about as good as it could have been. Boy is fresh, original, imaginative, quirky, funny, and ultimately poignant without being manipulative. And that’s extremely rare for a film these days.
Set in 1984 rural New Zealand, affable eleven-year-old “Boy” (James Rolleston) lives on a farm with his grandmother, his little brother Rocky, a goat, and a bunch of little cousins. When Boy’s gran leaves town to attend a funeral, Boy is left in charge of the family, but his life is turned upside down when his father (Taika Waititi), Boy’s biggest hero apart from Michael Jackson, returns from prison.
That may sound like a somewhat grim tale, but Boy is a coming-of-age film full of life and laughs. There are some subtle stabs the problematic indigenous culture in New Zealand, but for the most part, Boy has a lighthearted tone that at times borders on farcical. The jokes, which start off fast and furious, are predominantly verbal gaffs and slapstick gags related to the imagination/innocence/stupidity of the characters. As such, they do get a bit stale after a while, but to Waititi’s credit, he skillfully shifts the film’s tone towards drama in the second half, and by the end you may find yourself strangely moved.
One of the main reasons Boy works so well is young James Rolleston, a first-timer who has turned out to be a remarkable revelation. He carries the film from start to finish without a bit of self-consciousness. He makes Boy a real and immensely likable kid who just wants to be loved and connect with his father. Based on this performance and his looks alone, Rolleston appears destined for stardom.
Having talked the film up so much, I should remind readers to keep their expectations in check. There are some slower moments and not every scene is captivating. A few of the gags don’t necessarily work. But Boy should be enjoyed for what it is — a simple and unambitious film (by Hollywood standards) focused on characters and relationships. It’s a different type of experience to your brainless Hollywood blockbusters (many would say thankfully). It’s also completely different to those heavy dramas that drain you emotionally or those crazy comedies that bust your gut. It’s just 88 minutes of exceptionally well-made light entertainment.
3.5 stars out of 5
[This might be a strange comparison, but in some ways Boy reminds me of the highest grossing Taiwanese film of all time, Cape No. 7 (2006) — both small, simple comedy-dramas that struck a chord with the locals and ended up exceeding all box-office expectations.]