This is the first film by Taika Waititi that I’ve seen before, and after viewing it, I’m now looking forward to enjoying Jojo Rabbit, his newest feature, in the cinema. The first impression I got from Boy was a Wes-Anderson-esque feeling, visually and narratively. The characters and the way the shots are edited together during interactions with one another, framed with a precision that subtly indicates exactly what the director wants that scene to convey, reminded me so much of Anderson. It’s my favourite type of directing, with such a respect for the visual elements and the way they are placed within the scene, and then later on woven together in editing, to create more of a specific atmosphere than just the basic elements such as dialogue would create. However, Waititi’s characters are far more natural, more believable, than the almost-rigid and unwavering route that Anderson takes, as if they are not human characters on the screen but robots sticking to their on-screen motions and dialogue. This is objectively visually appealing, but Waititi achieves this plus realistic and genuine relationships and communication that elevate his story to beyond what Anderson creates (in my opinion; this is just a personal preference).
Boy is about an eleven year-old boy named Boy (James Rolleston) whose father Alamein (Taika Waititi) returns home after finishing his prison sentence to his two motherless kids and various young cousins. Boy believes his father is this amazing figure, skilled in dance like his hero Michael Jackson, fighting in wars and being the dad that most young children would generally fantasise about, particularly if they’re absent from their reality. As Boy tries to prove himself as tough enough to be a part of his dad’s supposed ‘gang’, he slowly begins to understand that he is not exactly the brilliant, perfect father he idolised him to be. Waititi plays, essentially, a lousy pathetic man who blames one of his sons for his wifes death during childbirth, and involving the other one in his (almost laughably executed) criminal activities whilst promising him far more than he could ever deliver. However, the fantastical idea of Alamein that Boy fiercely believes in is so realistic, portraying the very-real beliefs and behaviours of a young boy just wanting his father to be the role model and parent that he needs.
Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu), Boy’s younger brother, believes he has telekinesis and will apologise for making someone trip. Boy wants his father’s affection and tries to act out of character, calling his brother an egg in front of their dad and acting older (in the way any child thinks ‘acting older’ is). They are naïve, and small, and the way Boy tries to cover up his mistakes from his father so he doesn’t get in trouble, or tries to impress an older girl with sparklers, or gets his dad to draw tattoos on him in black marker pen, proves the childhood that they are in and in turn creates a very real journey for Boy to go on as he has to come to terms with the reality of his criminal father. The story is about growing up due to undesirable circumstances, but it’s not due to the fact the boy’s mother died at an age that barely allowed him to remember her, or the fact there’s a lot of kids in a small house with no adult besides their Gran. Boy is more focused on the inevitable realisation a child has about their parents as they become older, about any adult figure as they themselves become more adult by the day. It’s a universal problem, not specific to an eleven year-old Maori boy in rural New Zealand who lives on a farm with a goat.
Another element of this childish perception that the film has is the occasional animated cut scenes. Moving crayon drawings show wild things happening, such as Rocky’s ‘powers’ achieving the impossible, showing the audience just how average these children are. It’s realistic, making it all the more powerful in the final confrontation between Boy and his father. Despite the clash, it’s understood that they’re still father and son, and there is still affection there. You can appreciate the film’s honesty, as well as the humorous wit and charming atmosphere it holds. Although Rolleston does a fantastic job as the titular character, Rocky’s character is far more interesting to me. He is the one often shown visiting his mother’s gravestone, covered in his drawings, and who seems to see past Alamein’s presentation. He’s more interested in being a child, contrasted against Boy who is infatuated with the idea of impressing his father. But when Rocky eventually starts helping Alamein attempt to dig up stolen money he buried years ago (the reason for his return home) Boy is furious; yes, he wanted to be the one to solve Alamein’s buried treasure quest, but this brotherly conflict and the way the father figure affects both boys differently is shown in such an interesting and realistic way. Rocky blames himself for his mother’s death, as it appears Alamein does, whereas Boy didn’t do anything ‘wrong’ – either way, neither one can win any actual love from Alamein despite the actions each child takes. The film is called Boy, and Rolleston is the lead, but Rocky adds another dimension and purpose to Boy’s coming-of-age journey he is forced to go on when his dad appears. He is just as important to the narrative as Alamein.
As I’m sure people are generally already familiar with Waititi’s work, as he appeared in past Thor films and has been consistently proving himself as both an actor and director, Boy is an older piece of his work that is just as worthy of enjoyment as his newer films.