This is a well made, genial enough buddy movie with two engagingly watchable lead actors. Sam Neil is a curmudgeonly Hec, the reluctant father figure to a young boy – Ricky (Julian Dennison)- who has found himself in Hec’s care. The story essentially pits these two protagonists against an unfeeling and repressive state system (epitomized by Bella, a Miss Trunchbull-esque Rima Te Wiata) intent on bringing them to heel. Ricky is an orphan branded as unruly and dangerous (“he kicks…and breaks things”), who’s shunted around from place to place in search of a home. But no sooner than he begins to fit in with Hec and Paula (Rachel House) his new foster parents than things go awry. He and Hec are forced together; and together they choose the freedom of the open road (or really, as this is New Zealand, the freedom of the open forests) where they bond as they dodge and weave the faceless forces of the state.
But this is no dark tale. It’s a comedy.
Ricky and Hec have cute exchanges; Ricky (a cute fat kid) dances jokily, they encounter and foil various – mean, ornery- hunters, they endure narrow escapes, the awful grimaces and curses of Bella are balanced by her sweet-obsessed dumb colleague (Oscar Kightley), the media are charmed by the antics of the two fugitives and in the end, a good time was had by all.
Based on the book of the same name (by Barry Crump) Hunt For The Wilderpeople has a huge claim to fame: it’s the highest grossing New Zealand movie ever (the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series are excluded, having been American funded). Director Taika Waititi (Flight of the Conchords) has given us a movie that, in its affectless racial integration feels genuine and ‘innocent’. There’s not a shard of pretentiousness or faux sentimentality in the movie. And many of the patrons in the cinema laughed uproariously. Often. (Stoned?). So there’s no doubt that this pleasant crowd-pleaser story has hit a chord.
But the response to comedy tends to be very subjective. Though I admire the strong production and storytelling skills on display here, and though it did have its moments (in particular a wild man covered in bush: a bush man) I kept hoping I’d find it funnier. I was clearly missing out on the fun. Perhaps it’s this: if you coo over cute videos of cats and dogs on social media, this movie may be the one for you. But if such (cloying) cuteness leaves you unmoved…if you need more of a shot of biting, adult satire laced with sarcasm, irony and a -jaundiced- take on the human condition, perhaps you should stick to the US Presidential debates or the knockabout fights in UKIP. You might just get more of a laugh.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Dir: Taika Waititi (and screenplay). With Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Tr Wiata, Rachel House. Cinematographer: Lachlan Milne