As a self-proclaimed super patriot and an avid film goer, there has for a long time been something lacking in NZ humour. We just don’t know how to laugh at ourselves. Across the ditch they found their satirical voice decades ago, but over here it seems we are reluctant to accept or even acknowledge our humorous side.
Instead, we attempt to adapt other countries comic methods to try and find our madness “what would they find funny?” instead of “what makes me laugh?”. The result is cacophony of mismatched moments, off the mark timing and dialogue that is so far from reality it feels like it was written by an English student in which English is a second language (this goes for Drama too).
There has recently been a bright glimmer of hope, a small group of entertainers and creatives who have broken free from the restraints of kiwi social stigma and recognised the fact that we, the humble neighbours of Australia, are funny, we are odd and we have our own voice.
The Olympian who carries the flag in this group is Taika Waititi.
“What about Flight of the Concords?” I hear you cry. Yes they are certainly in the leading group, but they went in a different direction. They are the masters of the fish out of water. They found their local voice and planted it on the other side of the world, shook it up and the results were genius.
Taika instead has planted his stories deep within the New Zealand landscape. Not only has he recognised value in the humble New Zealander as a person worth characterising, he uses humour to find the humanity. On top of that he uses our past and intricacies to create a true feeling of nostalgia. No cringe inducing level of “Kiwiana” desperately forcing buzzy bees, jandals and other plastic cultural iconography wrapped around a story written for colonial motherland. He lets the stories and diversity of our past and present provide an entertaining mirror for US to look at and believe it or not, a majority of these stories translate anywhere.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is based on the one of New Zealand’s most iconic yarns written by one of this country's most prolific novelists, Barry Crump.
Of course there has been a lot of adaptations made to the screenplay to bring it to a more modern time. It tells the story of a young heavyset Maori boy Ricky (Julian Dennison) and his relationship with his adopted Uncle Hec (Sam Neill).
Ricky is dropped of by child-services to his new adopted home on a remote farm and is forced to adapt into his new surroundings and make sense of his new care givers, the enthusiastically tactless Auntie Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and rugged, introverted, man of the land Uncle Hec.
His initial reluctance to conform provides some of the best comic moments in the film as Ricky tries desperately to run away on several occasions, only to be lured back the next morning by Uncles Bacon and Eggs and Aunties persistence.
Eventually a strong bond is formed between all three and while the love of Bella borders on nauseating and Hec’s connection, though reluctant, is there through the twinkle in the eye and a wry smile, played wonderfully by the seasoned Sam Neill.
After the happy family triangle is brought to a tragic end, child services is forced to play their hand and attempt to claim Ricky back to be subjected to the system of juvenile detention. Instead Ricky and Uncle Hec “Go bush” to save Ricky form the tragic consequences of the youth prison Ricky refuses to go back to.
With the obsessed child services worker (Rachel House) and her seemingly unaware sidekick (Oscar Kightly) constantly on their tale, the Ricky and Hec’s bond grows throughout the film with some great gags build around miscommunication.
Eventually the chase goes from search and rescue to manhunt due to some misleading evidence unknowingly left and verbalised by Ricky. When Hec becomes the subject of character misdirection the local law enforcement ups the anti in what could be described as a “Smokey and the Bandit” or “Blues Brothers” track down (but with 1 percent of the budget)
Taika draws once again from his own experiences and solutes iconic films such as 'Sleeping Dogs”' and 'Good Bye Pork Pie' with musical notes, editing, pacing and shots drawn form classic 70s and 80s film techniques.
The acting is stellar from Neil as the grizzled “Crump” style Uncle Hec, Dennison as the misguided and once poorly influenced Ricky and Rima Te Wiata as the wonderfully warm overly loving and patient to a fault Aunty Bella.
The only performance gripes i have are in the supporting department. Rachel House dials up the obsession “No child left behind” a little too much, but is equalised somewhat by the more subdued Kightly. Our duo encounter a hunting party of 3 several times in the feature and they are just a little too confrontational and goofy in their intentions. Finally there’s a cameo from Rhys Darby as conspiracy hermit “Psycho Sam”. For me he just went too far and… well… Rhys Darbyish
The pacing suffered somewhat too, halfway through the second act things became a little cartoony and loose. There were a lot of “spot the kiwi pop culture” references which to be honest I enjoyed, but it didn’t play a great deal into the films story.
This doesn't however take away from the fact that this is an entertaining and heartfelt cinematic yarn. Not as much heat or sincerity as 'Boy' but worth a watch all the same.
You can really see a pattern in Waititi’s humour and story devices. With the right backing and financial support he’ll only grow with opportunities that will be presented to him. Now he's squeezed his way into the Hollywood system with Marvel's 'Thor 3' we’ll all get to see if I'm right.