The simplicity of silence is as important as any character in Taika Waititi’s (The Flight of the Conchords) hilarious and wonderful film, Boy. Comedic passages are stretched out for awkward, gut-busting laughs, and nature is exploited – rather brilliantly – for subtle, unbridled grace.
Like a setting sun on a soft, New Zealand sky, the film floats by in a brief, well-sequenced 87 minutes. Nothing feels rushed or even remotely slapdash. There’s plenty to ponder and little to forget. On the whole, Boy is a multilayered piece of filmmaking that quietly lingers in the air with a tinge of wist and a waft of pensive youthfulness, defiantly succeeding on its quest to walk life’s tightrope between pure joy and unrelenting sadness.
Such a life seems to move in hushed, sorrowful patterns for Boy, a vague comedic amalgam of the younger Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire and Macaulay Culkin’s iconic Kevin McCallister from Home Alone. His romantic outlook seems to be coming apart at the seams: The girl at school won’t notice him, he is living in extreme poverty, and he is still dealing with the loss of his mother. Her death still pangs his young heart – a tragedy that occurred many years before the movie’s setting.
His world is shaken when his father Alamein (played by Waititi himself with great comic timing) comes home for the first time in many years, both to see his children and to retrieve a stack of money he had buried in the yard. Waititi plays Alamein with a striking level of swagger, appealing to Boy as the leader of a renegade gang of loose-cannon criminals.
Together they drink beer, smoke marijuana and perform all sorts of debauchery. It’s through these scenes Waititi, as a director, achieves the best comedic moments, occasionally channeling Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) by peppering each sequence with goofy, yet biting irony.
But even rumpus time with Alamein can’t help chip away at Boy’s pain as he comes to terms with his lack of life “potential.” Playing Boy with the sad eyes of an emotionally befuddled pre-teen, newcomer James Rolleston is simply astounding here. To say he deserves Oscar recognition is a petty request for such a transcendent and meaningful performance.
In the end, Boy far exceeds the expectations of the comedy genre because it never teeters on self-parody with brainless stunts and hollow jokes. Instead, it’s an ambitious, well-made movie that has the capacity to induce laughs, tears and high-scale pondering, all while reminding you of how insecure life is as a kid.
VERDICT: Boy is a brilliant, beautiful examination of the perils of childhood.