Home Video Hovel: Boy, by Aaron Pinkston
After walking out of a screening of Studio Ghibli’s devastating Grave of the Fireflies, I desperately needed something quirky and frothy to balance out my emotions. Luckily, I had Taika Waititi’s Boy sitting at home ready to review. From the very first frame of the film, you see what you’re in for, when the cliched inspirational quote is assigned its source. I won’t ruin the punchline, but if you know where “You could be happy here… We could grow up together” comes from, you’ll get the gist. This is more than a quick, throwaway gag, though, as it gets to the heart of what Boy does really well — providing a dramatic framework with full characters you can easily attach to, but with an anarchic comedic sensibility running down the center.
Boy brings us into the world of the title character through a “Who Am I?” school presentation. The 3-minute rundown introduces us to Boy’s love of Michael Jackson (who is ubiquitous in the movie, including daydream-music video-reenactment sequences), his gang of friends (such as the sisters Dynasty, Dallas and Falcon Crest) and the second-hand versions of his distant father’s misadventures. The remainder of the film is much more of a setup than a plot, zig-zagging through pop culture references and one-liners.
Usually, great child performers are recognized because they are unchildlike, emotionally wise beyond their years. Boy’s James Rolleston is so good simply because he is so childlike. Rolleston has a pretty difficult job — not only does he have to keep up with the film’s soda fizz tone, but he has to drive it. Boy is cool and funny in the way of the cool and funny kids you wanted to pal around with when you were 11. But when the movie needs him to get emotional, he does so in the unrestrained way you expect someone of his age and experience to react.
Taika Waititi’s first film, Eagle vs. Shark, has pretty much been forgotten about, due to its relative quality with an ounce of bad luck. Upon its release, Eagle vs. Shark was seen as a mere Napoleon Dynamite clone, only existing to cash in on its success like some sort of Asylum production. Boy has many of the same offbeat indie-comedy trappings as Eagle vs. Shark, but has a level of authenticity that Waititi’s debut sorely lacked. First of all, the film’s setting in rural New Zealand is vibrantly filmed and realized. Waititi then populates the location with people he seems to know — I don’t know if this is in any way an autobiographical story, but I wouldn’t doubt that the writer-director probably sees his younger self in Boy, and this first-hand confidence greatly helps the characterization and performance. Waititi takes a step further, though, by casting himself as Boy’s father. As the dramatic core of the story comes when Boy’s father returns into his life, Waititi’s presence further implicates a biographical theory and it all works to elevate the film beyond a quirky little film.
The Blu-ray of Boy also includes Waititi’s Oscar-nominated short “Two Cars, One Night.” It’s a strangely cute tale of young love and a nice companion to the feature — though it doesn’t have the same tone or aesthetic, it features child actors of about the same age as those in Boy. Finally, the disc includes 40-minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the filmmaker and cast.