A rebellious, obese orphan with a love for Tupac is given one last chance with an oddball couple before he goes to juvenile prison.
Following the success of his mockumentary vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows, director Taika Waititi follows it up with Hunt For The Wilderpeople, a hilarious and touching adventure drama. One of the only faults with his first film is the lower than average running time, increased here to a more comfortable 1 hour and 41 minutes.
The widespread critical acclaim for Wilderpeople is extremely well-deserved. Rima Te Wiata, who was hilarious in the fantastic New Zealand comedy horror Housebound is just as hilarious in this, even though here her time is limited. As the adoptive foster-mother of young Ricky, she takes him into her home, shared with a bearded grump played by Sam Niell, who wasn’t quite into the fostering idea. Of course, then, it is only natural that the foster mother meet an untimely and surprising end early into the film, leaving Neill’s Uncle Hector character to spend the week with Ricky before child services collect him.
It is the relationship between Neill’s and Julian Dennison’s character that is at the charming, hilarious heart of this film, supported by strong, witty dialogue and a handful of clever references. Ricky leaves Uncle before child services can attain him,fleeing into the large and dangerous New Zealand bush. Upon finding him, Uncle is angered by the boy’s attitude and, twisting his ankle in the root of a tree, fractures his foot. The pair end up stuck in the bush for days, weeks, and then months, the authorities suspecting Uncle has taken Ricky against his will. What is really occurring is light-hearted shenanigans as the pair warm towards each other, opening up and becoming better people for it.
Though it is the pairing of two unlikely characters that derive much of the film’s humour, it is the standout performance by young Julian Dennison that truly makes the movie. Never in my time watching movies has a child actor been quite such a comedy genius, and when his acting isn’t making you genuinely laugh, it will make you smile until your cheeks hurt. Not just a quirky comedy of epic adventure proportions, Hunt For The Wilderpeople deals with important and saddening themes; the loss of a loved one, a young parent giving their child up for adoption and the failures of a system that sees orphans shunted from location to location, a lack of support leading to trouble and juvie. Such topics are dealt with aptly yet still retain some of the films knowing comedy by the writer/director.
Laugh-out-loud dialogue and performances are contained within a plot that dominoes hilariously from one moment to another, segmented by titled chapters that deftly separate the major moments of the film. With some stunning cinematography heightened by the natural beauty of the New Zealand wilderness and a superb indie soundtrack, Hunt For The Wilderpeople develops its characters in a satisfying manner, dealing with a range believable human emotions while retaining a hilarious, at times almost surreal, edge. It is no wonder Waititi has been appointed the title of director of Thor: Ragnorok. As a person who finds Thor a tad boring and considers the previous two films as the lower end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I for one am glad for the direction that seems to have been taken, judging by the trailers for Ragnorok.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a real treat, a gut-busting emotional rollercoaster with a charming heart of gold. I can’t quite believe I missed it when it was released. A truly majestical movie. Pssst…it’s on Netflix.
The Film Fanatic