The title character's charm cannot make up for the movie's lack of a narrative center
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Director: Taika Waititi
Screenwriter: Taika Waititi
Cast: James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi
Screened at: Broadway, NYC, 2/28/12
Opens: March 2, 2012
It would be easy to say that "Boy," which broke box office records in its native New Zealand and won accolades from that country's press, does not travel well across thousands of miles of ocean. But several American and British critics have bestowed their imprimaturs on the nostalgic movie as well. Yet "Boy," notwithstanding an alternately humorous and poignant performance from James Rolleston in the title role of a film with a cast of non-professionals Maoris, is less than riveting with few laughs and an occasional dollop of sentiment.
The New Zealand location chosen by writer-director-actor Taika Waititi is not likely one that would have been visited by Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgensten, who has just returned from a one-month vacation among the Kiwis. This tribal land is a vast mass of rickety building with one general store and a host of junked cars. Called Waihau Bay, the rural town is not like a North Korea with no knowledge of the greater world. Boy himself fantasies himself as Michael Jackson, his hero whose dance steps he uses from now and then to impress his pals including a girl who has an interest in the lad but whom he ignores in favor of the seemingly indifferent Chardonnay (RickyLee Waipuka Russell). There are references to James Clavell's Shogun and to E.T.
Boy opens the movie with a narration to introduce us to his world, telling his schoolmates in an address before the class that his dad, Alamein, is a hero of that North African battle who has promised to take him to a Michael Jackson concert. In reality, Alamein is in jail, returning to Waihau Bay with two pals, Chuppa (Cohen Holloway) and Juju (Pana Hema Taylor), partly to take on the role of father, but mostly to dig up money that he buried on the land. Boy's mother, Joanie Ranguni, had died at the age of twenty-two, leaving Boy behind to take care of his kid brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) who claims telekinetic powers and a brood of younger cousins.
Though a thoroughly character-driven story, adventures include a fight between the three adults and some bikers in what passes for a tavern, but more impressive are the fantasies of Boy's quiet brother, which include bringing a dead bird to life and forcing an obese local man to tumble to the ground. A lot of digging goes on since Alamein did not have a GPS in 1984 to pinpoint the location of the bag of paper money. At one point Boy's hero-worship of his father gives way to a slapping and punching match, brought on at least subconsciously by the older man's refusal to visit his wife's grave.
There is considerable charm in the principal actor-not the first chosen for the role but landing the job when the original lad's voice began to change. James Rolleston is a young fellow who has a winning smile and capacity to absorb his father's true nature. And the dance following the end-credits is an amateurish but high-spirited recreation of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." But the sentiments, however poignant, do not make up for a film that evokes a narrative center.
Unrated. 90 minutes (c) 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online