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Dustin Putman

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Boy  (2012)
2 Stars
Directed by Taika Waititi.
Cast: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Moerangi Tihore, Cherilee Martin, RickyLee Waipuka-Russell, Haze Reweti, Maakariini Butler, Rajvinder Eria, Manihera Rangiuaia, Darcy Ray Flavell-Hudson, Rachel House, Craig Hall, Mavis Paenga, Ngapaki Emery.
2012 – 84 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of R for language, drug use, and sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 21, 2012.
Boy (James Rolleston) is eleven years old, which makes him the man of a house occupied by his Nan (Mavis Paenga), 6-year-old brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), and slew of younger cousins. His beloved mom (Ngapaki Emery) died during Rocky's birth. His dad (Taika Waititi) has been in and out of jail, a gradual distant memory. Meandering around his hometown of Te Whanau-a-Apanui on the eastern shore of New Zealand, Boy has his eyes on pretty classmate Chardonnay (RickyLee Waipuka-Russell) and his mind otherwise occupied by his idol Michael Jackson. Oh, yeah—it's 1984, and "Thriller" has just taken the world by storm. Written and directed by Taika Waititi (2007's "Eagle vs. Shark"), "Boy" is a light-hearted coming-of-age story of the sort seen plenty of times before. Think of it as a less acerbic "Napoleon Dynamite" for the pre-teen set. Homegrown though it often feels, the film is hurt by a distinct lack of budget; how else to explain why "Thriller," or any song at all by Michael Jackson, never appears? That the whole cast does an end credits "Thriller" dance to the sounds of cheesy keyboard Muzak is, to be frank, embarrassing.

When Nan heads off to week-long funeral proceedings, carelessly leaving behind all the children she's responsible for, Boy finds himself in charge just as school is letting out for a holiday. He doesn't have expectations for anything of note occurring, but then his father Alamein shows up unannounced and worms his way back into the house. Boy is thrilled to have his parent back, even one who isn't the best influence on him, while Alamein and his two cronies begin digging for money they once buried in the backyard field. Is Alamein using his kids and planning to bolt again, or is there more to the reunion? Does he hope to make peace with the late love of his life he never got to say good-bye to?

Newcomer James Rolleston is a headstrong find as the title character in "Boy," an alleged extra who got promoted to the lead role when the original child writer-director Taika Waititi cast didn't work out. It's an impressive debut in an import comedy so willowy it very nearly ceases to exist. Does Boy really learn very much over the handful of days the story is set besides how to drink and smoke pot and give himself fake hickeys thanks to dear, old dad? Meanwhile, the loose plotting nevertheless abides strictly to formula, culminating precisely as the viewer expects it to (yes, thar be a visit to a cemetery involved). "Boy" is amusing on occasion, but there isn't much verve to it and its attempts at charm come off forced. As it turns out, the most potent element is an opening quotation from 1982's "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial:" "You could be happy here... We could grow up together." There is so much poignance in that line, it's a shame "Boy" cannot come close to matching it in the ensuing 84 minutes.
© 2012 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman