Boy is the tremendously comic latest offering from ultra-Kiwi Taika Waititi, that follows in the loping footsteps of his seminal Eagle Vs Shark. This is a film peppered with nostalgia for the cult of 1984. Characters swoon after Micheal Jackson’s Thriller and ruminate on the poetic moments of Spielberg’s E.T., all is drenched in a sweet Kiwi glaze.
It is a common narrative technique, where a child is protagonist, for the author to sever the child’s connection to authority. Usually this means orphaning or estranging a character from their parents, in order for them to be free to rise to the heights that a dramatic narrative conflict demands, without the intrusions of safety, common sense or reluctance. The titular Boy, played with charm and poise by James Rolleston is left adrift in New Zealand’s pastoral East Coast, having lost his father to prison, mother to death during childbirth and his grandmother leaves town to attend a funeral. In their absence he fabricates an alternative life for his family, triggered by the return of his long-lost father, Alamein, combining tender domesticity with the dizzying heights of his delusions after fame and fortune.
The remote lives of Boy and his friends are portrayed as some kind of indicative test for the cultural significance of world events. MJ, arcade games and samurai films have penetrated the imaginations of the characters, but their lives seem untouched by politics, economy, religion or ‘highbrow’ cultural pursuits. This NZ litmus marks out pulp cultural phenomena as being a prime source of inspiration and escapism: if it takes off in this town, it’ll take off anywhere.
Fans of Eagle vs. Shark will recognize Waititi’s impassioned level of involvement in his own world, this time having included himself amongst the cast, many of whom are non-actors or unknowns. Writing himself into the role of Boy’s long-absent father adds a layer of potency and interest. His character fluctuates smoothly between the pathetic paternal failure and ‘Best Dad Ever’. Curiously, Waititi’s blueprint for the perfect father, despite being projected outwardly by a character who is a child, reflects an adult understanding of how kids glorify their parents, and a distinct nostalgia for childhood in the 80s. Accordingly, the character of Boy is singularly capable of caring for and raising his brothers and sisters, exhibiting sympathy and justice beyond his years. It may be a reading uninvited by the film, but Boy, his father Alamein, and director Taika Waititi resemble the Father, Son and Holy Ghost: A youth with the wise soul of a man, a father glorified in absentia, and the intangible presence of love, nostalgia and history that a family shares. Like the Holy Trinity, these three overlap and entangle in each others’ memories, interests and especially their love, rural New Zealand life in the 1980s.
The arc of this film is accelerated by a somewhat torrential use of montage and time-lapse editing. This approach is a slight departure from the perfection of the opening act of the film, wherein every fragment of dialogue is delivered so as to be utterly hilarious, yet pleasingly familiar. Hats off to Waititi for the line “Who can tell me what disease this sheep has got?” delivered by Boy’s teacher, a man in a sweaty singlet, who smokes out the classroom window. This comic momentum fades in and out of density, but lands in a place that is rewarding and triumphant.
Go and see Boy, you egg. 8