Friday 23 February 2018

On DVD: "Boy"

Somewhat surprisingly, it took Boy seven years to reach this part of the Northern hemisphere, but it's the film that best explains the easy transition the Kiwi director Taika Waititi made to the American studio system (and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which may or may not now be the exact same thing). At its centre is a young Maori boy - known simply as Boy (James Rolleston, later an effective presence in true-life chess drama The Dark Horse), and perhaps not all that dissimilar to young master Waititi himself - who passes through some of the usual coming-of-age manoeuvres in a small coastal community, with only memories of his late mother to console him, and a deadbeat dad (played by Waititi himself), just sprung from prison, who proves more hindrance than help. In its vaguely cartoonish, forever genial vision of a broken home, the film sets out something like Maori cinema's big international breakthrough Once Were Warriors as made over by the nerdy, dreamy kid sat doodling over his textbooks at the back of the class, but there are more universal aspects yet. Boy opens, indeed, with a quote from E.T.; the lad's Michael Jackson fixation generates a nimble "Billie Jean" pastiche; and his sisters are apparently named Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest, while his serious younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu) believes he has comic-book powers, though at this stage Waititi's VFX capabilities were limited to crayon drawings of what conspicuously fails to materialise in the kid's reality.

You sense the filmmaker likewise coming of age, building on the imaginative strengths of his somewhat fey 2007 Eagle vs. Shark while aligning himself with emergent American sensibilities. In his framing and editing, this Waititi presents as a more amenable Jared Hess or heartier Wes Anderson, never too far from arriving at the next truly funny idea: handing Rolleston a floor polisher that's too big for the tyke to keep under control, setting his gang of ne'er-do-wells to sip tea from dainty china cups, covering the protagonist in Sharpie tattoos that read "FRONT" and "ARM". Already, he was undermining some of those moves and tropes the cinema had started to take for granted: Boy's idea of his pa as some dashing criminal blade is compromised by the revelation he buried his ill-gotten gains in a nearby field, only to forget where exactly. There are sketchy patches, but the film deepens and becomes genuinely dramatic going into its final act, drawing from a well of wisdom about the ways in which we eventually come to see our parents for who they really are. "Don't get into the Nazi stuff," says dad to lad in one of his rare moments of clarity, pointing towards the swastika he etched into the wall back in a younger, more reckless day; with his gentleness, his eye for the little guy in the back and corner of the frame, and his spirited mockery of pompous, incompetent patriarchs, Waititi may just be the crowdpleasing oppositional filmmaker Trump's America has been crying out for.

Boy is released on DVD through Vertigo on Monday.

No comments:

Post a Comment