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ADVANCE: Boy - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Boy is a charming little New Zealand film about, as the title suggests, a boy -- who just happens to go by the name of Boy. He actually has a regular name, but it's only mentioned once or twice and since it's of native origin, I can't remember it. It doesn't matter much: Boy later decides he wants to go by Little Shogun, since his dad (writer-director Taika Waititi) doesn't like being called "Dad" and suggests "Shogun."

Like any adolescent, Boy has a vivid imagination. His dad is actually in jail, but Boy imagines him traveling the world doing all sorts of important and exciting things, and that he will one day return and take him to see his idol, Michael Jackson (the film is set in 1984). The reasons for the dad, Alamein's incarceration is never revealed, but once he returns, in spite of him usually being a sweet guy, it's easy to imagine him having gotten into trouble.

Boy lives with his little brother, Rocky, several of their cousins -- where all of their parents are remains a mystery -- and their grandmother, who is off out of town to attend a funeral for a couple of weeks, during which time Alamein returns with a couple of friends. Alamein has a stash of cash buried in the ground somewhere but can't remember exactly where; he enlists Boy's help in digging dozens of holes in a field in search of it.

Even when Alamein is getting himself into trouble again, Boy turns on the fantasy -- usually visualizing his father taking the place of Michael Jackson in iconic music video roles. Rocky has his own fantasies, rendered in lovely child's crayon animations. Rocky is much quieter and more subdued, humbled by the knowledge that his birth is what killed his mother. Boy and Rocky are played respectively by James Rolleston and Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, both of whom, like all the children in the film, were locals found by Waititi and had no previous acting experience. In a way this makes them both perfect for their roles, but Waititi should also be credited for getting such genuine and touching performances out of them.

Waititi himself does a wonderful job as Alamein, conveying a man struggling with loss and an inevitably strained relationship with his children. He happened to be at the screening I attended, and I was struck by his naturally slightly flamboyant nature, which was a world apart from that of Alamein. It made me wonder: how often do I see performances that only seem merely decent but I don't realize how amazing they are simply because I haven’t seen the actor actually being his or her very, very different self?

That said, the supporting parts, mostly also children, aren't quite as impressive. Most of the other kids give off an air of simply having been told, "Stand here; say this line." There's a lot of stiff standing around rather than natural fluidity of children playing. Luckily, both Rolleston and Eketone-Whitu largely make up for it.

In any case, Boy is filled with quirks that never get too cutesy, and, unlike many films filled with oddball activity, doesn't wear its oddities on its sleeve. Surely there's an element of exoticism that will appeal to certain American audiences in ways actual New Zealanders themselves wouldn't recognize. But New Zealanders did love it: it's the most successful movie in New Zealand to date, according to Waititi.

Coming-of-age stories are hardly new, but it's pretty new to see it set off the rural coast of New Zealand, and therein lies Boy's charms. People in New Zealand get to see themselves -- in a movie that doesn't lay it on thick with the "spirituality" of natives -- and outside audiences get to see something unlike everything else in the theatre. Either way, it's something different, and it's something worth seeing.

James Rolleston is an odd little BOY.

Overall: B+

Opens tomorrow at the Varsity Theatre.
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