Film Review — Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
There’s not enough feel-good comedies out there. Everything seems to either be romcoms or incredibly raunchy comedies nowadays (not that there’s anything wrong with those films, just the overabundance of them). But it wasn’t until I watched Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople that I realized we haven’t had a truly great comedy in awhile (Deadpool excluded, of course).
Or maybe Hunt for the Wilderpeople is just special.
The film tells the story of Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a foster care kid who has just been placed with a new family that includes Sam Neill’s Hec and Rima Te Wiata’s Bella. At first, Hec and Ricky don’t get along, but when they get lost in the wild New Zealand bush that surrounds Hec’s farmhouse, the two must learn to get along in order to survive.
It’s a delightful story of friendship, with a wicked sense of humor that fits perfectly with the quirky tone of the film. Add in a dash of tragedy, and we’ve got an incredibly well-balanced film. Though, at times, the national manhunt for Ricky and Hec, with the slightly evil social worker in charge of Ricky’s case leading the wolfpack, seems like an over exaggeration, but it somehow never feels over the top. I would be inclined to say there’s a bit of magical realism in this, but it’s definitely not a magical realism film. It’s also got one of the better soundtracks I’ve heard from any movie this year.
But the real treat of Hunt for the Wilderpeople is Julian Dennison. He’s charming and funny as hell, and Ricky Baker is one of my new favorite film characters (he even has his own theme song!) Though his life has been tough, he takes everything thrown at him with a quick wit and gung ho attitude. Ricky gets carried away with the idea of being outlaws with his Uncle Hec. He names his dog Tupac and makes Lord of the Rings references. But there’s also a vulnerability to him that comes through in much needed scenes, and Dennison plays it all fantastically. Dennison plays off his adult costars with the ease of a seasoned actor, and any scene he’s endearing himself to either Bella or Hec is a special highlight.
In fact, every character is great in this film. Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) is the down on life Uncle Hec, whose grumbling about taking Ricky in is never mean-spirited, but understandable. Watching the two bond together on their adventure is wonderful. Even Paula (Rachel House), the social worker, is a great villain. The role could definitely have been over-the-top, but House played her hilariously and with the right kind of wackiness befitting a film in which a national manhunt headed by a social worker is the driving force of the action. Secondary characters have more than one scene, and always come back in odd and quirky ways that make the film feel fully rounded and complete.
The film is broken up into ten chapters and an epilogue, making the film feel folktale-ish. Indeed, it does seem a little unbelievable that Hec and Ricky are lost in the woods for six months, but their popularity spreads like the stuff of legends. Hopefully, like its two main characters, Hunt for the Wilderpeople will too.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople will make you believe in comedies again, even if you didn’t realize you needed to.