By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Taika Waititi’s had probably the most dramatic directorial arc of the decade, non-Colin Trevorrow division, starting on micro-budget comedies like Eagle vs. Shark and the uproarious What We Do in the Shadows before jumping directly into the heavyweight division with the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.
Josh Trank… not so successful a jump.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is Waititi’s interim flick, made in the interim between the announcement of Thor and his getting started on the blockbuster, and it very much feels like a big step up in production values and ambition. It sees a foster child, Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) getting his last chance per his overly martial child services rep, Paula (Rachel House). His new family is just on the edge of the New Zealand high country bush, which the hilariously matter of fact and enormously good-hearted Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) makes a living off of alongside the stand-offish Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). When tragedy strikes, Ricky and Hec find themselves in a manhunt that makes national news and draws in pursuers beyond just the incredibly determined Paula.
Reports are Thor: Ragnarok is a “buddy road comedy” between Thor and Hulk, which sounds… amazing, all the more so because that’s exactly the template Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows. Ricky and Hec are mismatched, old/young, partners in adventure whose never less than hilarious bickering overlays a friendship with a mostly unacknowledged but unmistakable mutual affection. It’s a template as old as time or at least Lethal Weapon, but Waititi and his cast are able to make it feel fresh due to a focus on the most important element- the characters.
And ‘characters’ they certainly are.
Each one of the characters, despite their quirks, and importantly, flaws, feels full formed and full of heart, which is what really carries you through a film and keeps you coming back time and again (and I’ll certainly be doing that). It also doesn’t hurt that Hunt for the Wilderpeople is very, very funny. If you’re a fan of the humor in any of Waititi’s previous efforts, or Flight of the Conchords for that matter, then you’ll be entirely pleased, but Waititi takes both his comedy and his style a step further by introducing a Wes Anderson-style sheen and a host of setups and punchlines that depend more on editing and filmmaking technique than we’ve seen from Waititi up until now. He’s growing by leaps and bounds, and the full package of laughter, feeling, and directorial verve that Hunt for the Wilderpeople presents shows Waititi can already do pretty much anything.
The only complaint I have is that while it the plot is extremely well-executed boilerplate, it’s still boilerplate. There’s no great surprise to the plot and you’ll know where it’ll all end up as soon as you see gruff-as-nails Sam Neill harrumph at the look of hip-hop orphan Julian Dennison.
Best Friends Foreverrzz
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a quirky, funny, heart-tugging tale told with plenty of style and verve by the fast-rising Taika Waititi. His Thor is going to be awesome.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: “No Child Left Behind”
Take a Drink: for each haiku
Take a Drink: “skux life”
Take a Drink: for Terminator references
Do a Shot: “Majestical”