Stand-up comic Taika Waititi shows his movie-making mettle by writing and directing 'Boy', a funny, endearing and perceptive insight into the journey through adolescence of 11-year-old Alamein (a vocal and powerful James Rolleston, who's been labelled with the movie's title as a nickname). Set in a particularly plausible version of Waititi's homeland circa 1984, a luscious, rural New Zealand is the stomping ground for Boy, his mischievous friends, his brother (who believes he has super powers) and his confidant goat. The absence of his father for the better part of his childhood has left a role model-vacuum, filled by his idol Michael Jackson, and by the severely inflated fantasies of whom he imagined his dad to be: a war hero, deep sea diver, and, naturally, a phenomenal dancer. Things take a turn, however, when Boy's father, also named Alamein (played by Waititi, who delivers a fantastically charming buffoonery that never becomes annoying) arrives one night with some reprobate friends fresh from prison soon after Boy's gran, the family matriarch, leaves for a week.
Understandably, Boy is enthused to get to know his fast car-driving, gang-leading dad, and he does all he can to shed his juvenile title in hope that he will not be left behind again. However, as Alamein snr's real reason for returning becomes clear, and as the discrepancies between the fantasy and his father's reality widen, Boy has to navigate his way into maturity in a manner he'd never before anticipated.
This film has a rare take on the familiar coming-of-age theme. Whereas most stories in this vein seem to grant their young protagonist in the dying minutes an adult understanding of their issues, 'Boy' tactfully shows a personal growth that remains contextualised by childhood, rather than one that leads out of it. Although the movement of the child actors is a little wooden or feigned at times, a special beauty continues to shine throughout the rest of the film, with the dialogue, camera work and production value sharing excellence in equal parts. This, coupled with the film's visual detail and originality, keeps a recurring amazement until the credits roll.
Special mention need also be made of Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, who plays Boy's younger brother, the stoic, deeply pensive Rocky. He manages to translate the character's inner turmoil so acutely through his reserved façade that it becomes difficult to not immediately empathise with him, rather than sympathise from a distance.
Boy has not been released in South Africa yet, but keep a look out for it soon.