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With: James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi
Directed by: Taika Waititi
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 90
Date: 01/22/2010

Boy (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Human Nature

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Coming-of-age movies are quickly becoming the most tiresome of movie genres. There are two reasons for this: one is that it's a rare skill to be able to remember one's childhood with painful accuracy (not just nostalgia), and the second is that, when filmmakers do fail to remember their own childhood, they simply borrow from other coming-of-age movies.

Happily Taika Waititi's Boy has three things going for it. One is that it's set in the 1980s, which is not particularly unique, but at least it lends the movie a giddily clueless quality. The second is that it's set on the coast of New Zealand, where the speech and behavior has a wonderful singsongy rhythm that is not typical in movies. And third -- and most importantly -- the coming-of-age in this movie does not happen with the young man, but rather with the father.

"Boy" (James Rolleston) is an 11-year old who loves a slightly older, more sophisticated local girl almost as much as he loves Michael Jackson. (And what better symbol of a fallen hero?) His mother has passed on, and he cares for his younger siblings while his grandmother is away. His most notable sibling is his younger brother Rocky (Aho Eketone-Whitu), who doesn't remember their mother as well as Boy does, and visits her grave often. Oh yes, he believes he has superpowers.

Into this setting Boy and Rocky's father Alamein (writer and director Taika Waititi) returns. He's a victim of arrested development, playing around in a "gang" called the Crazy Horses, and pretending to be cool. Boy, of course, thinks he actually is cool and relishes any attention he gets, even if it turns out to be bad. Part of the reason Alamein has returned is to dig up a "buried treasure" -- a box full of money -- to hit the road with. He makes Boy shovel hundreds of holes to help locate it, which Boy does enthusiastically.

Waititi beautifully balances the ups and downs of this relationship. Boy is left disappointed and heartbroken more than once, and the father usually tries clumsily to make up for it, explaining that he's like "The Incredible Hulk," changing from good to bad in a heartbeat. He also asks that Boy not call him "dad," but rather "Shogun," after the James Clavell novel popular at the time.

The children here are both remarkable, not relying on cuteness, but allowed to remain children, with the pain that brings alongside the pleasure. (Pain is the one thing that most coming-of-age filmmakers fail to understand.) Although the movie does get a bit too cute from time to time, it's a rousing success, and a powerful mix of humor and heartbreak. Boy is one little fellow you'll remember for a while.

Kino Lorber released this sleeper on Blu-ray. It comes with a 45-minute featurette that contains interviews, which is mostly press-kit stuff, and a bunch of "B-roll," behind-the-scenes footage. There's also a trailer, and best of all, Waititi's wonderful Oscar-nominated short film Two Cars, One Night. The box lists another extra -- "Kickstarter Update Videos" -- that I was unable to find on the disc. Audio for the film is available in both 2.0 and 5.1. Picture quality is terrific, emphasizing a kind of soft, outdoor light and bright greens.

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