Saturday, April 23, 2016

Talking Tribeca: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 13th-24th.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed by Taika Waititi
Festival Screenings

Adjusting to a new family situation can be a very difficult thing to do. The foster care system in many countries is not set up in a way that makes transitions smooth or the likelihood of success terribly great. Often, that creates serious problems, but it can also be fodder for comedy. In this highly entertaining film, an overzealous social worker dumps a juvenile known for such depraved behavior as "spitting" and "loitering" on an eager mother and her disgruntled husband, with no idea what adventures lie ahead.

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is silent and unfriendly when he first arrives at his new home. He tries to run away and makes it just a short distance, prompting his generous new parent, Bella (Rima Te Wiata), to try a different approach, one that blends sweetness with sarcasm, while her husband Hec (Sam Neill) maintains a stuffier exterior. The quality of the situation becomes clear when Ricky celebrates his birthday and notes that it is the first time that he has had occasion to do so. Sadly, Bella’s untimely death means that Ricky is headed to a new home and probably juvy, and an ill-fated attempt to fake his own death results in Hec following him into the woods and injuring himself, leaving the unlikely pair stranded for months as the public begins to spin devious theories about what has become of the old man and the young boy.

This film is a pure delight. Ricky is an affable boy well aware of his body size and the fact that people don’t have high expectations of him, yet he never wants to give up. Hec is gruff and has no desire to socialize with anyone, and seeing how he coolly follows Ricky and only slowly opens up to the boy who takes care of him and then becomes his accomplice as they run from the authorities is an entertaining process. Other characters, like Rhys Darby’s forest-dwelling conspiracy theorist and Rachel House’s furious social worker, enhance a genuinely charming and funny film.

Dennison is a tremendous find, capable of anchoring scenes and sharing the screen with much more established performers, like Neill, who does a great job being serious and only occasionally allows Hec to have any fun. The two are great together, and they lead a superb cast. The film’s setting in New Zealand works on many levels, with appealing backgrounds and a good-natured vibe. Taika Waititi, who previously directed the fantastic “Eagle vs. Shark,” has made another supremely compelling and unique comedy that is easily one of the best and most endearing movies at Tribeca this year.


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