BOY. Starring James Rolleston, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Mavis Paenga and Taika Waititi. Directed by Taika Waititi. Rated M (mature themes, coarse language, drug use and violence). 88 minutes.
At once, Boy (a lively and attractive James Rolleston) looks into the camera and recites his life story for us – and for the class where this is part of a lesson. He lives in a community of Maori people, disadvantaged but with a lively spirit that sustains them or, sometimes, leads them into trouble. It is 1984 and pop culture has more than made inroads in this part of New Zealand. Boy has a devotion to Michael Jackson, and this theme is humorously woven through the whole film. Some of the kids are called Dynasty and Falcon Crest (or Chardonnay). Boy's ne'er-do-well, often dim, but exuberantly optimistic father is called Alamein, where his father fought (though he opts for Boy to call him Shogun because he likes Samurai and has James Clavell's novel). This indicates that there are quite a few laughs, and laughs out loud, to be enjoyed throughout the film.
It all takes place over a week when Boy's gran goes away to a funeral and Boy is in charge. He sometimes indulges in a fantasy world, where Michael Jackson figures, and also imagines all kind of heroic and romantic adventures for himself. Which don't happen. He also has a six year old brother, Rocky, who thinks he has magic powers (confirmed when Rocky aims at people and sometimes they fall over – and he apologises for his powers). While James Rolleston is excellent in his performance, the presence, often silent, but very expressive, of Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu as Rocky has something special about it. There are several kids around the town, at school, eating ice blocks at the local store or 'employed' (throwing mud at the cows) or just bored and hanging around.
We feel we have lived in Waihau Bay and got to know the people there.
Then Boy's father turns up from prison, with two friends, who have formed a gang (vastly inferior to the real gang who later bash them up while they try to do a marijuana deal). Taika Waihiti, who wrote and directed, plays Alamein, would-be Shogun, with great zest. Waihiti is a comedian, a stand-up comic, writer and director, especially of the 2007 comedy, Eagle Vs Shark, who doesn't mind appearing as foolish or as sentimental. Boy does not know Shogun but is ready to see and imagine him as a hero, wanting to be like his Dad. And that is part of his crisis, and of his growing up. He has to discover his father's limitations and faults (to do with the gang digging up a paddock for a packet of money and Boy finding it...).
There are plenty of poignant moments as well, especially since the boys' mother died in giving birth to Rocky and this has become part of his consciousness, sorry for what he did to his mother. Boy himself is by no means a perfect character. While he is bullied, he is hard on his brother and on a mentally limited beachcomber who becomes crucial to Boy's self awareness.
The thought came that if someone were to organise a day of film on indigenous people facing the 21st century, two films that would be worth considering would be Samson & Delilah for Australia and Boy for New Zealand.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released August 26