Adult does the growing in 'Boy'
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Mar. 30, 2012
There are really three boys at the heart of "Boy," a funny and touching coming-of-age story from Taika Waititi, the New Zealand filmmaker best known as the writer-director-star of the Sundance charmer "Eagle vs Shark" (2007).
One is the title character, an 11-year-old known as Boy (James Rolleston). The others are Boy's little brother, Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), and their father, an overgrown child named Alamein. He is played by the director with equal parts roguish charm and jaw-dropping misbehavior.
It is Alamein, in a sense, and not his son, who most needs to grow up.
At the start of the film, Boy and Rocky are living with their grandmother, who has raised them since their mother died and in the absence of their father, who is in jail for robbery. As a measure of Boy's independence, Gran doesn't hesitate to leave him and Rocky on their own for a week - along with a couple of other underage cousins - when she travels from their rural home to the New Zealand capital of Wellington.
It's clear that Boy is accustomed to being in charge, even after his father shows up - unexpectedly and without explanation - with two criminal pals in tow.
"Stop calling me 'Dad,' " Alamein tells Boy. "It sounds weird."
He's right, of course. Of father and son, Boy is far and away the more responsible party. Although Boy idolizes his old man and wants nothing more than a father - or whatever idealized notion of a father he has manufactured, fueled by years of daydreaming - Alamein is there for one reason, and one reason only: to retrieve stolen cash he buried nearby several years ago and then be gone.
Much of the film revolves around pointless hole-digging and the ineptness of Alamein's attempts at parenting, which include getting Boy mixed up in the drug trade after one of Boy's friends discovers a marijuana crop in a cornfield.
It's serious stuff, but with a veneer of cheeky comedy. Set in 1984, the film beautifully evokes an impoverished culture dominated by an escapist fascination with Michael Jackson music and cheesy American television. Several of Boy's friends are named accordingly, including Dallas (Haze Reweti) and Falcon Crest (Montana Te Kani-Williams). The young actress Moerangi Tihore shines as Dynasty, a precocious classmate of Boy's whose wry sense of detachment provides a tonic to the film's increasingly absurd action.
All of the juvenile actors are good, especially Rolleston, who brings an unusual combination of infectious youth and gravitas to the title role.
But it is the part that Waititi plays - behind the camera, even more than in front of it - that lends "Boy" its emotional heft. The movie can be silly at times - with some scenes animated as crayon drawings come to life - but it's also smart, stylish and substantial. At age 36, Waititi is a filmmaker who seems wise beyond his years.
Contains obscenity, drug use and a bit of fighting.