SIFF Film Review – Boy
Everyone has a hero. Someone who they look up to, who inspires them to do better than they think they can. Usually they are celebrities, musicians or athletes—people at the top of their game and loved by millions. Sometimes, though, heroes don’t need to be known by the entire world for the people who love them to sing their praises. It doesn’t happen as often, but there are many people out there who would say a friend, parent, or relative is their hero. I think the reason we don’t hear as much about the average Joe hero is because the illusion vanishes once you get to know someone. No longer are they this untouchable perfect thing. You spend enough time with someone and you get to know their faults and weaknesses. After a while, they look less like a hero and more like the imperfect person they are. Coming to terms with the disappointing reality of meeting your hero is at the core of Boy, a new film from New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Eagle vs. Shark), which is screening at the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival.
The year is 1984. Boy (James Rolleston) is an 11-year-old living a simple life in Waihau Bay, New Zealand. His days are spent at school, hanging out with friends, pining for the girl of his dreams, and listening to Michael Jackson. On the surface, everything about Boy’s life seems normal. But his home life isn’t very typical. Boy lives with his Grandma, his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), and an assortment of cousins. His mother died giving birth to Rocky and his father (played by writer/director Waititi) has been absent for nearly as long.
This might seem like the perfect recipe for a drama surrounding a disenfranchised youth who’s been forced to live a hard life. Instead of going that somber route, director Waititi turns Boy into a much more joyful and colorful portrait of a less than perfect reality. Boy doesn’t mope around accepting his lot in life. Instead, he dreams big, and we get to see his fantasies come to life. He doesn’t hate his absent father; he idolizes him. He tells extravagant tales about his dad’s adventures all over the world to anyone who will listen. Even when a bully reminds him that his father is currently in jail, Boy doesn’t get upset. He answers by spinning a yarn about his dad escaping prison with only a spoon so that he can take him to a Michael Jackson concert.
Boy’s little brother Rocky feels the weight of the world a little more heavily. He feels responsible for his mother’s death and pretends to have super powers as a coping mechanism. When something isn’t going the way he likes, he focuses hard and imagines his telekinetic wrath. We see these bursts of superpowers in charming sequences of hand drawn animation. Rocky has never met his dad and doesn’t idolize him like Boy does. Instead, he spends a lot of time by himself at his mother’s grave.
One day, Grandma has to pack up and head out for a week. This leaves Boy in charge of Rocky and his cousins. Soon after she’s left, a car pulls up with three men inside. Boy is ecstatic to see that it’s his dad Alamein and two prison buddies. His hero has come home and will be taking him to a better life. However, there are a few things about Dad that Boy didn’t remember. One is that Dad is even more immature than most 10-year-olds. Instead of acting like a father to his son, he asks Boy “Have you seen E.T.?” Boy shakes his head. Alamein snorts. “I’ve seen it four times.” Another is that Alamein is incredibly selfish. He hasn’t come home to finally take responsibility for his sons—he’s looking for some money he stole and buried in the yard years before. At first, Boy is so excited to have his dad back that he overlooks any faults. But as their time together wears on, he starts to realize that maybe his father isn’t worthy of all his love and adulation.