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Like his previous feature, Eagle vs Shark, Taika Waititi’s Boy tells a mere wisp of a story, yet both films are filled with compelling characters, situational color, knowing observations about youthful behavior, and quirky bits of oddball and fantastical humor. Set in a modern Maori village on the eastern coast of New Zealand in 1984, Boy focuses on an 11-year-old whose name is Boy (Rolleston) – not such an unusual name in this place where pop culture has bequeathed many of Boy’s friends with appellations such as Dallas, Dynasty, and Chardonnay. Boy is a Michael Jackson superfan who lives with his younger brother Rocky (Eketone-Whitu), his grandmother, and several cousins since his mother is deceased and his father is in prison. A teacher at school tells Boy he has potential but neglects to explain what that means. School is out and Boy is left to be the man of the house while his grandmother is away for a week at a funeral on the other end of the island. Of course, during that time, his father Alamein (Waititi) returns to find some money he buried in a pasture before going to jail.
Those days with his father, who has the enthusiasms of a child and smokes lots of weed, is the crux of the movie. Elated by his dad’s presence, Boy basks in his companionship. Odd and humorous things continue to happen. Younger Rocky still visits their mother’s grave and he continues to believe he has superpowers that can control the actions of others. By the time the caper of the buried loot plays out, Boy has had to abandon some of the grandiose myths he’s harbored about his absent old man. By the time Boy the movie plays out, we have grown intimate with the texture of life in this coastal village. Beautifully photographed and using largely nonprofessional child actors, Boy transmits a unique sense of place and time. A performer and comedian before becoming a filmmaker, Waititi uses his comic sensibilities to keep Boy from becoming mawkish or clichéd. He has created a coming-of-age tale that is truly original.