New reviews, interviews, and features via RSS or Email.

Sponsored Links

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

(2016) *** Pg-13
101 min. The Orchard. Director: Taika Waititi. Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata.

/content/films/4933/1.jpgWriter-director Taika Waititi specializes—or at least has to date—in the charmingly goofy, like last year’s vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, the rom com Eagle vs Shark, and the coming-of-age comedy-drama Boy. Although Waititi’s potentially game-changing next film will be the blockbuster Marvel superhero movie Thor: Ragnarok, he has at least one more indie-flavored charmer for audiences: the new family adventure Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Adapted from Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Hunt for the Wilderpeople embraces its novelistic origins by dividing its story into ten chapters, but Waititi gives the story a quirky spin, as if the likes of Where the Red Fern Grows crossed with Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. The story unfolds in Waititi’s native New Zealand, where thirteen-year-old Maori child-of-the-state Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) gets placed with the Faulkners, an older couple living on the outskirts of the bush. Ricky’s a problem child who romanticizes gangsterism and has a litany of petty crimes by which Child Welfare—personified in Rachel House’s humorously officious, wildly overzealous Paula—has judged him.

Matters immediately start looking up for Ricky in the nurturing embrace of new “Aunt” Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and the company of a new dog, which Ricky names Tupac. But when circumstances conspire to take Bella out of the picture, Ricky finds himself alone with grumpy, sixty-five-year-old Hector (Sam Neill of Jurassic Park). “Uncle” Hec’s first instinct is to comply with a Child Services order to remove the child from him, but Ricky has other ideas, and soon the unlikely pair, along with Tupac and Hec’s dog Zag, find themselves on the run from Child Services and police, a $10,000 bounty in play.

With “about a million hectares to hide in” deep in the bush, Hec teaches Ricky survival skills and the two bond over adventure, the boy helping his “uncle” to “process” his emotions. Ricky begins to romanticize the adventure not only in gangster terms but in natural ones: with the far-travelling wildebeest in mind, Ricky fancies himself and Hec as “wilderpeople,” hunted by pitiless authority figures who don’t understand. Amid the high-stakes plot, there’s a whiff of romance for Ricky with a local girl and some truly wacky comedy involving a conspiracy-nut hermit self-dubbed “Psycho Sam” (the hilarious Rhys Darby of Flight of the Conchords).

When the plot slows down, Wilderpeople can get a bit cutesy, but mostly Waititi skillfully undercuts the clichés with good humor. The picture has more genuinely funny moments than most so-called comedies at the multiplex, abetted by Waititi’s now-practiced comic sensibility, his stylized snap of performance and editing. If a bit raw, Dennison’s a definite find, and the long-undervalued Neill makes the most of a juicy late-career role. Adding enormous value is the gorgeous—or as Hector calls it, “majestical”—scenery, although Ricky’s haiku, like the film itself, is less inspired by nature than by the good people moving through it.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links