The what-a-people? Full of memorable, quotable lines that are all the funnier for being in a Kiwi accent, there is nothing really to dislike about this sweet New Zealand comic drama by Taika Waititi, director of What We Do in the Shadows and Boy, two of my favourite Kiwi films. You’ll recognise Taika as he also often features in his films – Viago in Shadows, Alamein in Boy and the minister in Wilderpeople.
From the trailer, I expected this to be a light, irreverent comedy, playing much on the cuteness of young Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker and the irascibility of Sam Neill as hector. What I found, though, was a heart-warning and thoughtful exploration of relationships set amidst the natural splendour of the New Zealand landscape. As a poster in Murray’s office might say, “New Zealand: It’s not going anywhere.”
We meet Ricky Baker, wayward long-term foster kid being delivered to the rural home of his “last chance before juvie”, Bella and Hector. The child protection worker, Paula, dispatching him has no doubt he is a bad egg who will end up a criminal but Bella, beautifully played by Rima Te Wiata, sees only potential. Her birthday song to Ricky (made up on the spot when they realised they didn’t have the rights to use ‘Happy Birthday’) will worm its way into your brain and stay there for a few days.
It will come as no surprise that the key arc of this story is the relationship between Ricky and Hector; it’s obvious from the start but develops more subtly than I expected. Some of the peripheral characters are played mainly for laughs – Paula ‘No child left behind’, the bumbling Andy and Rhys Darby as Psycho Sam – although there are some great Kiwi-accented one liners.
There are some beautiful scenes where the camera slowly turns in a panorama and scenes and characters change, as if moments have been stitched together in a graceful arc. Overlaid with some evocative music, such as Leonard Cohen’s Song of the French Partisan, this brings a lyricism to the film that belies it’s overall parodic humour.
See this one with kids. You’ll be sure to be quoting lines from it for weeks to come.
Bechdel test – fail