New Zealand is on a roll. Well, one of its natives is, anyway. That would be Taika Waititi, the very funny Kiwi who co-wrote and co-directed one of 2015’s best comedies, What We Do in the Shadows. He goes solo with his newest effort, the comedy-drama Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which stars Sam Neill and easily qualifies as one of the most entertaining entries of 2016.
Foster kid Ricky (newcomer Julian Dennison), who takes after the gangsta lifestyle, gets delivered by a child welfare services worker (Rachel House) to the country to live with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband, grumpy Hector (Neill). Soon after, tragedy strikes and child services wants Ricky back, so Ricky runs away into the bush, with Hector in pursuit and authorities pursuing both of them.
In a nutshell, this is one of those movies in which two characters who hate each other eventually learn to like and appreciate each other. Waititi makes sure, however, not to sentimentalize Neill and Dennison’s mutual thawing too much. He supplies their relationship with a little bit of an edge, generally by way of making Neill surly, Dennison troubled and inserting guns into the mix.
Neill, Dennison and Wiata aside, Waititi’s humor here mainly takes the form of people being idiots, and pretty amusing ones at that. House easily takes the funny cake in that regard with her overzealous child welfare lady, while
Neill and Dennison also encounter a trio of gung-ho hunters, a wacky conspiracy nut (Rhys Darby) and the relax-bro father of a girl who helps them out.
But the gruff-old-man/troubled-teen dynamic runs the show here, and Neill and Dennison prove very appealing and, ultimately, sympathetic in their roles. I’ve rarely seen Neill so lively, and he deftly lets his gruff guard down gradually, similar to what he did in Jurassic Park. Dennison himself is funny, exuberant and wide-eyed with wonder as a kid who, contrary to House’s description, is hardly a hardened criminal. And he delivers some hilarious haikus.
Waititi himself makes an amusing appearance as a minister, but proves even more valuable as a writer and director — the former in how well he creates such an endearing pair of antagonistic characters, the latter in how he moves them along to a believable, and affecting, friendship, and in how he captures the beautiful New Zealand landscape. Which reminds me, anyone who likes warthogs… will probably not like this movie. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 9/27/16