|Julian Dennison and Sam Neill star in Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Orchard)|
You might not recognize the name Taika Waititi, also known as Taika Cohen. He is writer and director of the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and will be directing the upcoming Marvel movie, Thor: Ragnorak. In between the two he has spent his time writing and directing the New Zealand adventure comedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Based on the book, Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, Hunt for the Wilderpeople tells the tale of Ricky (Julian Dennison), a juvenile delinquent that “nobody wants” but is given a new chance of life when he moves in with his new foster parents Aunt Bella (Rima te Wiata) and Uncle Hector (Sam Neill) who live basically in the middle of nowhere. Aunt Bella loves the boy but Hector just wants the boy to get out of his hair. When a tragedy strikes, Ricky runs away in the bush and gets himself lost. After Uncle Hector finds the boy, they discover that local authorities believe that the old man had kidnapped the boy and a national manhunt is called for. Hector is worried, but Ricky is just thrilled that they have become famous.
It is part road comedy, part Odd Couple and part coming of age film. Ricky and Hector couldn’t be more different and yet the two need each other. The prevailing message is “You don’t trade family for anything.” Neill of course is excellent as the crotchety old man and Dennison is surprisingly good as a kid who’s reputation is worse than he really is. It should be mentioned that Wiata almost steals the show as the loving aunt with cat-faced sweaters who can wrestle a wild boar like nobody’s business. Rhys Darby has a small but notable role as “Psycho Sam” who is found in bush and Waititi himself plays the part of a minister who’s words of comfort could use a turn up.
The film is rated PG-13 mostly for language. If you are okay with that, it can be a fun film to watch with your young teens. They’ll appreciate the adventure and you’ll appreciate the humor. Overall, it is a very fine film with a lot of heart, but it is uneven in spots. The story introduces some characters that don’t seem to serve much purpose and some scenes drag on a little too long. The filming of New Zealand is beautiful but the choice of music is questionable sounding more like the music track from a bad 1980s film. As a foreign film, it has a different tone to it than most American films but the story is universal: You don’t trade family for anything.