Boy was probably my favorite film I saw at Sundance this year. It’s indie without being hip, which seems like a hard balance to achieve. My reviews are getting shorter as I write more and more of them. Hopefully that just means more people will read them, because I don’t want to short change the films I have left to write about. I’m just really sick of the language involved in conventional film reviews. I don’t know how to get past it. It’s definitely something I need to work on.
Directed and Written: Taika Cohen
Starring: James Rolleston, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, and Taika Cohen
New Zealand, 87 min.
In Boy’s mind, his dad is a professional criminal, brave soldier, and brilliant pop star, all wrapped into one. He’s away in jail for now, but Boy spends a lot of time getting to know his estranged father through his own fantasies. Then his dad comes home, and Boy has to come to terms with his father not quite living up to his expectations. In fact, Boy has to come to terms with his father being a total loser.
New Zealand cinema has a history of creating believable, engaging child characters with the help of talented non-actors they find in Maori villages. Infectious smile, innocent hero-worship, and his protective relationship over his brother make Boy the kind of kid you would want to get to know. Equally compelling are his friends named after soap operas (Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest), his six-year-old brother who believes he has superpowers, and his tiny, dirty, round-faced cousins.
In a film full of pop culture references from 1984, “Boy” manages to not sound pretentious. Rather, every American cultural phenomenon that influences this small Maori village is greeted with an innocent acceptance by the inhabitants. Like Boy’s father, America is far, far away, and sometimes myth is much better than the truth.