Quick Hit: Offbeat comedic mind of Taika Waititi mixes with Sam Neill and a young child.
I’m a pretty big fan of more offbeat comedic movies. Taika Waititi, who we most recently reviewed in Thor: Ragnarok, is a director that continues to make a career out of that. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, his movie prior to Thor, is a classic example of that. The story follows Ricky (Julian Dennison), a thirteen year old who is placed into care at a New Zealand backwoods farm in the care of Hec (Sam Neill) and Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Ricky is a rebellious child, full of clichés – he’s fat, wears bright oversized hoodies, and spouts pop culture like a fountain. Hec is a cantankerous old man, and Bella is overzealous but full of love.
Eventually, Waititi pushes his two brash characters together via an accident. This leaves plenty of humorous bits of “fish out of water” comedy, but it also sells a ton of heart. Neill is fantastic in his role, essentially picking up where he left Jurassic Park in a way that suggests that Dr. Grant decided to retire to the island of New Zealand and take up farming. His attempts to distance himself from Ricky are a source of pain and humor, but Neill isn’t the true talent here. Young Dennison shines at toeing the line of what is an extremely tough character. You have to both be annoyed by Ricky but still enjoy him enough that you feel a connection to him. Dennison does this by being filled with over-confidence, while still maintaining an immense air of need. There’s a lot in that performance that comes across – and all in all, Dennison is also really funny.
This trademark comedy does come with some tradeoffs though. There’s a large portion in Wilderpeople where time moves forward rapidly (if memory serves, it may actually do this multiple times). While I understand the economy of filmmaking, I think this time lapse actually loses some of the good will that Waititi has built up throughout the film to this point. It also means that we miss out on a lot of good character work – something that Waititi excels at. I think the desire to push the story forward to the climax (more on that in a minute) meant that we lost out on what probably would have been a better movie focusing on Ricky, Hec and Bella.
The climax is something that is fun to behold. The scale is outrageous, with huge trucks and helicopters all coming after this young man and his foster father. It’s a finale that was hinted at throughout the film, but it also seems a bit tone deaf to what has made the movie enjoyable so far. If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t like it – I thought that all of it was a bit of an action movie parody, which would have been fine if that was what the rest of the movie had been. So this high speed chase end, while entertaining, is at odds with the rest of the tone, which takes the enjoyment out of both.
All in all, if you enjoy this type of comedy (think Flight of the Concords), you’ll probably enjoy most of it. I found myself laughing throughout, even though I had several parts that I didn’t agree with Waititi’s choices. It’s enough for me to give the film a “B-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"