I’ll be candid:
I love Taika Waititi.
Long and lonely college nights were miraculously saved by countless re-watches of Flight of the Conchords, Boy, and Eagle vs Shark. That last one particularly more so than anything. The Kiwi directors staple for humanistic comedies with dry and surreal humour melded in one pot made my belly ache from sheer laughter. Two years ago, my admiration for the writer and director increases sevenfold as he mastered the funniest movie of recent years with mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. (sidebar: It’s actually an impeccable comedy and it’s on Netflix so I can wait if you haven’t watched it …)
Anyway, basically the director of Thor: Ragnorak could film a tin of bisgetti for two hours and I’d write an expose on why its the comedy triumph of our generation. He owns my soul, is what I am saying.
Luckily, he hasn’t done that for is latest outing (literally) with Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Still, it is as every bit as glorious but with more profound imagery than you can shake a ruddy stick at.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople revolves around urban wild-child and orphan Ricky Baker who is carted off to the sticks to live with the kind but outrageous Aunt Bella and her gruff husband Uncle Vic. Despite initially bristled by the prospect, Ricky becomes accustomed to the new life-style and Bella’s warmth, learning to find a home in the hills and near the woods. However, when something unexpected happens, Ricky and Vic find themselves in the middle of the copious forest, with polar opposite personalities, having to survive off the land and whatever lays in their tracks. Though in pursuit is a hot-boiled social worker and a dim-witted police officer who believe Ricky has been kidnapped and a nationwide manhunt is soon underway.
The comedy in Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a lot more stripped back following on from the commercial and riotous success of What We Do in the Shadows. That doesn’t mean it’s a worse feature, it just means it’s different and that Waititi is such an acclaimed director that every feature that he does has unique facetes and levels, dashed with the best of humanity (even if they are there.)
What Wilderpeople does promote is a much more poignant core that is developed through the bond of foster father and son. The gruff Hec, played greatly by Sam Neil, has to grow with Ricky, and the repertoire and road through the valleys and mountains is delightful to watch.
Julian Dennison and Sam Neil are this year’s greatest pairing. Dennison broods as the troubled Ricky Baker who, under his hooded layers, has a tenderness and sweetness about him. He is perhaps the greatest character of 2016. Funny, smart (in his own way,) and striving to find a place he belongs, Dennison makes this film a charming and loving journey for a young boy who has never had a family and extends his isolated circle to Vic and his wife Bella, opening up for the first time. It’s an endearing watch, especially when it is combined with Sam Neil’s hardened Hec who gradually softens to Ricky. The once-drifter, smoothed slightly by Bella, is Neil’s best work: A tough wilder-man who becomes allies with a rambunctious boy and beings to learn new tricks. It’s a fantastic and sweet watch.
Though coming into the third half, there are a few pacing issues with the repetitiveness of near-capture then escape, and the pursuing child services employee/brute Paula and the dim-witted police officer Andy can get over-bearing (mind you, Paula, played superbly by Rachel House, has some of the funnier laugh out loud moments as she chants the mantra “no child left behind.”) Utilising the epic landscapes of New Zealand, Waititi carves out a spectacular indie romp that balances the witty banter of our lead characters with sentimentality.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is out now!