Taika Waititi / Sam Neill, Julian Dennison / Comedy / 2016 / 12A / 101mins
Comedy has been leaking from every nook and cranny in New Zealand since Flight of the Conchords became a noughties hit. Taika Waititi continues the Kiwi dominance with the short’n’sweet Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (newcomer Julian Dennison) is dragged deep into the countryside by child services to live with new foster parents Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill). Miraculously, the boy turns over a new leaf under Bella’s caring wing, much to the disdain of the immutable grunt that is Hec. What goes up must come down – Bella suddenly dies and Hec tells Ricky that child services will take him away once again. But a determined Ricky goes on the run from the cops with Hec in tow.
The duo of Dennison and Neill cannot be overstated. They are beyond fantastic – their onscreen chemistry drives the heart and soul of the entire film. Neill’s durability is on show and provides a comic turn that is so unexpected. Not much an be said for the others: ‘villains’ Paula (Rachel House) and Andy (Oscar Kightley) are funny in a Three Stooges sense but little else, Rhys Darby’s compulsory cameo is funny but utterly random; no one else particularly makes their mark. Rima Te Wiata is endlessly likeable in her brief role but, as mentioned, she doesn’t stick around for long.
The three-pronged Kiwi humour attack is instant: equal parts ironic, sarcastic and deadpan. The expressionless southern cousin to awkward British humour but with a kind heart. The problem with Wilderpeople, however, is that the jokes are an overkill. Sometimes the punchlines just don’t kick, and there’s an air of disappointment that lingers like an silent fart – you know who’s done it, but you won’t mention it because it’s already awkward enough.
What is so endearing about Wilderpeople is that it has that Spielbergian comradery that is surprisingly rare nowadays. An innocence and flair that makes you believe in the characters (let alone mere empathy) and a world that is reachable to ours. On the other hand, the film does stumble to an end. It’s like they ran out of ideas, so decided to go hell for leather. I bet the pre-production brainstorm was a sight to behold when ‘police chase’ entered the mix. Nothing much makes sense, but that’s half the fun.
Waititi is incredibly similar in style to Edgar Wright, utilising pop imagery, zooms, quick editing and so on. Regardless of the comparisons, it’s a quirky style that works especially well with this kind of content.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is not overcooked in the slightest. A Goldilocks of comedy craftsmanship that anyone and everyone will enjoy. Overall, an excellent feature from the young Waititi.
Film as a Film – 3 / Target Audience – 4 / General Audience – 4
Hunt For The Wilderpeople is available on DVD and On Demand
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