Writer and director Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows” and the upcoming “Thor: Ragnorak”) has come out of nowhere (New Zealand) to make the best film of 2016 so far.
In his fourth film, Waititi takes a 30 year old book by outdoorsman Barry Crump (“Wild Pork and Watercress”), adds some pop culture sensibility, an up and coming talent (Julian Dennison), a NZ acting legend (Sam Neill) and a Wes Anderson style vision to create the funniest and most heartwarming film of the year.
Raised on hip-hop and foster care, defiant city kid Ricky gets a fresh start in the New Zealand countryside. He quickly finds himself at home with his new foster family: the loving Aunt Bella, the cantankerous Uncle Hec, and dog Tupac. When a tragedy strikes that threatens to ship Ricky to another home, or worse, juvenile detention, both he and Hec go on the run in the bush. But this is no two character opus – a national manhunt ensues, and in their wilderpeople living, the pair come across a surprising amount of characters who inform their journey along the way – for better and worse.
Broken up into novel style chapters, Hec has the survivalist know how to keep them on run, but, in a nice balance of the (often) warring generations, Ricky contributes with his own charm and skill set, and even has a thing or two to teach the set-in-his-ways Hec.
Reminiscent of Australia’s beloved comedy classic, “The Castle”, in its respect for its odd, proletariat characters, this film tackles the stories of those who society would rather forget – a kid stuck in the social services loop, and a man with an unappetising past and a skill set less and less relevant to modern day life.
The film would not work, however, without the audience getting on side with “really bad egg” Ricky, and Julian Dennison is an absolute find who will no doubt find a future in Hollywood should he desire it. His confident and driven nature make the character easy to root for, and he has the funniest lines in every scene, but he also sells the quieter moments, allowing both the audience and Hec to see the effects an unstable life has already had on him by the age of 13. Often told in haiku.
As the highest grossing film in New Zealand, this film is already sure to be a classic for its home country. With Taika Waititi on the rise in Hollywood, hopefully this little film can go with him, reaching the wide audience it deserves.