This is a bit of a late review and I’m sorry about that, but I’ve got to tell you about this charming little indie by the director of What We Do In The Shadows. Taika Waititi, whose work can be seen at Marvel and Disney with Thor: Ragnarok, is possibly one of my favorite directors making movies right now. The talented Kiwi – he’s from New Zealand, not a fruit – didn’t get a job to make a Marvel movie for nothing, the man has chops, and impeccable skill. His ability to convey comedy and intimate human emotion doesn’t get shown in a constantly enjoyable or relative way in most movies, but when you see you it, it’s difficult to erase from your memory banks.
The story takes place in Waititi’s home country of New Zealand and follows the story of a troubled, overweight juvenile delinquent named Ricky, as he and his dog Tupac fall into mishaps and adventure when tragedy strikes his beloved foster family. Sam Niell plays the grouchy Uncle Hec as they embark through the wilderness escaping the law for misunderstood reasons. Comedy and drama ensue as they both share sarcastic gut punches with some of the most well written dialogue I’ve seen all year. Julian Dennision (Ricky) is perhaps one of the funniest child actors I’ve seen in awhile. Without ever missing a beat as a troubled youth or even as just a sensitive, lost kid who wants a family, he gets you with every line and action he takes on. Helping him on the way is one Sam Neill, who many know from his starring role in Jurassic Park back in the day, as his grumpy foster father-uncle(?)
There’s something about the beautiful landscape whose harsh terrain in sequences of the film change as often as the characters, but with each scene we discover beauty and harsh realities. Whether Waititi did that on purpose or the weather just kept working out in his favor, it’s a good touch via mother nature. The colorful characters along the way make for a hilarious adventure that mixes slapstick with intellect without ever taking itself too seriously, and that’s exactly the type of comedy that lasts lifetimes. For so long, I haven’t seen a comedy that actually makes me laugh with full sincerity, but that changed for me thanks to the quick cutting yet smooth directing style by Taika.
The manhunt that ensues for our lead characters shows the charm of an adventure film without having to go full Indiana Jones. It’s a story that brings mishaps, comedy, drama, and sensitivity without felling contrived or pretentious. It’s a film that knows what it is thanks to a script and director that knows where he wants his stories to hit you when the time is right. The pacing makes for an indie film that feels like was worth $30 million or more, but on it’s incredibly modest budget of juts $2.5 million, the film feels large and in charge of the story it decides to tell. I’d recommend anyone over the age of thirteen to see and relish in the moments of this film. It takes on the hardships of loss, anger, sorrow, and sheer happiness in the most raw, naturalistic form while allowing yourself to truly think about the people closest to you in your own world.