Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fresh, funny, quirky Kiwi adventure fun ride featuring two endearing, superbly performed misfit characters. Choice!
Kiwi director Taika Waititi won a lot of fans with Boy (2011), but he’s hit a whole new level in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. This ripper of a flick is pure gold mainstream entertainment in indie wrapping, and given the right distribution and promotion, a global smash hit in waiting.
As in Boy, Waititi applies a light, humorous touch to a child lead character – in this case Ricky (Julian Dennison) – in potentially tragic circumstances. An over-nourished delinquent hip-hop kid aspiring to a future as a gangster, he’s been bounced between foster homes and “juvie”, and has developed a resigned, wry sense of humour befitting a world-weary adult. Waititi’s trademark wit and dorky comedy is a perfect fit for the character, and Julian Dennison delivers, stealing the show.
Ricky’s irony and irreverence is funny, but there’s a sobering underlying sense that it’s an armour. He’s a child in need of a family, too hardened to cry or yield to emotion. His humour is a coping strategy. There’s a sensitive intelligent kid there beneath the armour, who expresses himself through haikus, mostly flippant, sometimes poignant. A deceptively complex character like Ricky is not easy to bring off, but Master Dennison gets the tone just right.
As does Sam Neill, who is in fine form as the gruff and curmudgeonly Hec, an illiterate bushie who has done jail time but has found stability and settled down with his kind-hearted sweetie of a wife, Bella (Rima Te Wiata). They live in a rustic but homely shack on the edge of the wilderness in NZ’s North Island. No doubt at Bella’s prompting, they foster Ricky, who is considered a lost cause by his adversarial and cynical case officer (Rachel House).
Things don’t start well – Ricky runs away on the first night. Savvy Aunt Bella lures him back with the promise of a hearty breakfast, and wins him over with her joshing and caring little touches like warming his bed with a hot water bottle. Hec, by contrast, glowers at him, growls “Don’t call me uncle” and terminates their first communication with “Bugger off!” Ricky is happy to oblige.
A tragic turn of events leads Ricky to fake his death out of fear of being forced back into care. He goes on the run with his beloved dog Tupac (a birthday gift from Aunt Bella). He soon gets lost and is rescued by Uncle Hec, who shares his aversion to institutionalisation and reluctantly agrees to go bush with him.
So begins a grand Boys Own adventure New Zealand style. Spectacular wild country, no showers, guns to hunt with and ward off nasty rednecks (“homies” in Kiwi slang), cops on their trail and saturation press coverage ensuring their outlaw status and national notoriety – what’s not to like? Ricky’s never been happier or more at home!
Of course, Uncle Hec gradually warms to him, although they continue to butt heads. You wouldn’t want it any other way with these two.
Things get ever more outlandish and cartoonish approaching the denouement. All part of the fun – this ain’t realism. An OTT car chase threatens a Thelma and Louise climax, but the film is geared toward a happy ending, and that’s what we get. Affecting, but satisfyingly appropriate and mercifully free of American-style excess of sentiment.
Formulaic? Sure. But while Waititi works within generic parameters, he does so with a freshness, quirkiness and originality that delights. And while the film is basically a coming-of-ager, it’s one with a difference in that it champions misfits, leaving the outsider lead characters on the outside, and contentedly so. There are many ways to belong, many paths to home, and family does not have to mean Mum, Dad and kids in suburbia.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is eminently suitable for kids (no serious cussin’ or violence, or sex) and they’ll love it. But it’s not a kids’ flick per se. It’s a fun ride for all ages, and as flat-out enjoyable as cinema gets. What are you waiting for, bro? Get aboard.
Movie website: https://www.madman.com.au/news/tag/hunt-for-the-wilderpeople/
Hunt for the Wilderpeople features: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Taika Waititi (screenplay), adapted from the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump
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