A new kid is in town. Well, actually a Boy. Boy, the film, to be exact. Taika Waititi, director of Eagle vs. Shark and writer for Flight of the Conchords, is in town for the US debut of his critically acclaimed film Boy. An official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and winner of numerous film festival awards from Amsterdam to India, Boy has been sweeping the globe and for the first time since its 2010 release, you can see it on the big screen right here in New York City.
The film is set in the rural east coast of New Zealand in 1984 at a time when Michael Jackson rules the airwaves and the imagination of a young MÃ„ ori boy named Alamein, affectionately called Boy. With a father in jail and as the eldest of his brother and cousins, we meet Boy grappling with the trials and tribulations of life as the man of the house. Among scuffles with school bullies and attempts to impress the prettiest girl in school, our eleven-year-old protagonist weaves us an imaginative tale painting his absent father a world traveler and a hero. When his father Alamein senior (played by writer and director Taika Waititi) returns, Boy is forced to reconcile imagination with reality. The transformation of the father and son relationship shows that everyone has a little bit of growing up to do. This coming of age tale is funny and fantastical yet balanced with a healthy dose of unforgiving reality.
Waititi’s performance as Boy’s father and self-proclaimed “renegade” adds to the quirky quality that makes this film so magical. When you meet the animated Waititi, you can tell that only he could be responsible for a character like Alamein. He is downright funny and his Q & A had the audience in stitches. But Waititi has much more to offer than comedic performance. He has a solid grounding in his culture and considers himself a as a story teller above all. During the post-premiere interview, he shared a family story about a relative that was in the MÃ„ ori Battalion of World War II (the MÃ„ ori Battalion was the most decorated New Zealand battalion during the war).
At Monte Cassino the MÃ„ ori Battalion did a silent Haka (a MÃ„ ori warrior dance) to motivate themselves and keep them going in the trenches of battle. He used this story to highlight his frustration with the commercialization of MÃ„ ori culture and the warrior dance which has been featured in mainstream pop culture such as Adidas advertisements. Waititi believes in protecting the integrity of MÃ„ ori culture while simultaneously offering a much broader reading of MÃ„ ori people. His films attempt to undo stoic and romantic notions of Indigenous communities that have been popularized by Hollywood and mainstream media. Alamein’s character as the loveable loser is thus attempting to portray a more nuanced representation of MÃ„ ori masculinity separate of mainstream design. The magical characters in Boy are fantastical but very much grounded in Waititi’s truisms.
Boy has been self-distributed with generous donations through a kickstarter campaign. The film made its US debut on March 2nd in New York City and is playing in select theatres. To see the official movie trailer and a list of theatres, please visit boythefilm.com.