Boy story – Boy review.

Boy – Starring James Rolleston, Taika Waititi and Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu. Directed by Taika Waititi. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

What does it take to create a blockbuster movie; one whose epic box-office grosses end up partly defining its nation of origin’s identity? Think of the biggest money earner in North American history: Avatar, a parable about humanity’s obsession with earning money, destroying nature and wiping out foreign civilisations (coughwhiteguiltcough). Consider Australia’s highest grossing local production: Crocodile Dundee, a comic tale about a likable larrikin who sticks it to authority. Surely the home-grown films that we embrace reflect the way we wish to see ourselves. So what does Taika Waititi’s Boy – the highest grossing New Zealand film in that nation’s history – have to say about New Zealanders?

Perhaps that they’re a bunch of friendly (albeit quirky) individuals? The flick begins in 1984, with the titular Boy (a sweet yet confident James Rolleston) welcoming us to his interesting world. We meet his fleet of cousins with whom he shares a home, his scruffy group of friends, as well as his meek little brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu). Boy’s mother passed away while giving birth to the younger of the boys, and the duo eagerly await the return of their enigmatic father Alemain (Waititi) from prison. Perhaps the success of Boy implies that New Zealand is a country of optimistic dreamers? Boy has built his father up in his mind to be an epic hero with the skills of a samurai and the dancing prowess of a young Michael Jackson. However, when Alemain returns home after a stint in the clink, he reveals himself to not be quite the champion Boy had hoped.

Perhaps Boy’s b/o numbers reflect New Zealand’s adoration of awkward humour and painstakingly composed mise-en-scenes. Waititi – director of Eagle vs. Shark, Oscar-nominated short Two Cars One Night, and many episodes of Flight of the Conchords – has an expert handle on stilted delivery and precise comic timing. He also seems to have a penchant for the work of Wes Anderson, as Boy feels like a direct descendant of Anderson’s oeuvre (right down to the bad father figure). The performances – particularly Waititi’s – are impressive. However, his unmoving camera keeps us separate from the film’s events. There is no emotional catharsis in his screenplay either (where there is in Anderson’s pictures). Instead, the film just feels distant, and not all that poignant. These aren’t exactly prime traits for an intimate character drama.

Perhaps the NZ$7 million gross of Boy is an indication of … nothing. A nation’s highest grossing films hardly indicate the best films they had to offer. The thought of Avatar being the definitive American motion picture is ludicrous (especially if high grosses imply that Alice in Wonderland is the fifth most iconic piece of American cinema). Consider the recent Australian success stories: Bran Nue Dae, Happy Feet, Mao’s Last Dancer. Again, hardly definitive works. Perhaps the only thing all these pictures have in common is their inoffensiveness – which is exactly what Boy is. It is far from a bad film; in fact, it’s totally pleasant and enjoyable. Due to all the money it collected in its New Zealand release, it will receive both hype and criticism disproportionate to its quality as it reaches our shores. I say it sits somewhere in between both sides of the argument. Boy is – like so many films that end up grossing a whole bunch of money – unremarkable. But it is also sweet and funny, and films like that are always worth handing over cash to see.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

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