Taika Waititi delivers another fantastic film that shoots right to the top of our films of the year list. The guy is a real life genius.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed and written by Taika Waititi, of What We Do in the Shadows and the upcoming Thor: Ragnarök fame, is based on the book, Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. It tells the story of a teenage gangster wannabe Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) who has passed from foster home to foster home on account of him being, in the words of child support officer Paula (Rachel House), ‘a bag egg’. He is delivered to ‘Aunty’ Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and ‘Uncle’ Hec (Sam Neill) out in the New Zealand bush where he thinks he might have finally found a place to call home. But when child support threaten to take Ricky away, for reasons I won’t spoil here, he runs away into the wild and is stranded there with Uncle Hec. On the run from child support, NZ police, and eventually the NZ army, Hec and Ricky form a moving father-son relationship.
Waititi’s script is brilliantly charming and moving. It’s filled with moments of genuine heartbreak juxtaposed ingeniously with hilarious moments of black comedy. Balancing that fine line between hilarious and ridiculous is something that Waititi has done so well in the past but he takes that to a new level here. In other hands this film would simply not work. There aren’t many writers or directors who could break your heart one second and have you in hysterics the next. This guy could be one of the greats of our time.
The cast is another reason this film works so well and Waititi has uncovered a gem in young Julian Dennison. His comedic timing is brutal and he somehow makes a character that would grate on most people to be utterly charming. As mentioned, he is a ‘bad egg’ but he’s got a huge heart and that’s what really comes across in Dennison’s performance. His relationship with Hec is the heartbeat of the story. Hec is reluctantly a carer for Ricky when he’s first taken into the household but watching him begin to care and even like Ricky against his better judgement is joyful to behold. Sam Neill plays the role of the no-nonsense survivalist with a brilliant vulnerability.
As well as the two stars, House is hilarious as the ‘villainous’ child support officer and has some of the best dialogue in the film. There’s two cameos also that will have you crying with laughter. The first is by the director himself, who delivers probably one of the funniest monologues I’ve ever heard and the second is by frequent collaborator Rhys Darby who plays a tin foil hat conspiracy theorist.
Waititi delivers an hysterical look at a moving relationship between two outsiders. Ricky and Hec have never belonged anywhere and Dennison and Neill have such fantastic chemistry together, they’re like a yin and yang and that’s why their relationship works so well. This is one of the year’s very best. Without a doubt.