Boy, Taika Waititi’s wonderful 2011 coming-of-age story, is the most heartwarming and honest depiction of childhood I’ve seen since Babe. Like the main character in Babe, Boy (James Rolleston) is an orphan, his mother having died in childbirth while delivering his little brother, Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu). This orphan lives in a land of broken-down cars and rampant unemployment, yet at the very beginning of the movie, he introduces himself to camera wearing bright eyes and a million dollar smile. “Ora (Maori greeting), my name is Boy, and welcome to my interesting world.”
In this opening speech, Boy describes his absentee father as “A master carver, deep-sea treasure diver, the captain of the rugby team, and he holds the record for knocking out the most people with one hand.” None of this is true, obviously, and Boy’s father is actually in prison for robbery. Boy’s father Alamein (Director Taika Waitit) shows up early in the film, and drives most of the action. As Alamein constantly invents stories about what he’s done and will do, he actually spends all his time getting high in the garage and searching for the “Treasure” he buried in a field and forgot to mark.
Though poverty and desperation are omnipresent in Boy, and Boy’s father is a loser and a petty criminal, the implacable cheeriness of the film and its main character make the mere hour and twenty-three minute runtime breeze by like a dream. Beyond the film’s perspective and instantly relatable characters and its emotionally powerful story, it is often astoundingly funny. I have many times gone back in my netflix window and watched the moment when Boy’s teacher yells at him and a classmate, “Both of you fuck off or I’ll send you to the principal!”
This and innumerable other laugh-out-loud moments make the film a joy to behold, and announce Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Eagle vs. Shark) as one of the most exciting filmmakers in the world. Underneath the surface of hilarious revelry and indomitable childhood positivity, there is an emotionally devastating undercurrent of hopelessness and death. The complex emotions and simple themes of Boy make it instantly enjoyable, hilarious, and emotionally devastating.
Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Taika Waititi
Stars: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi