Taika Waititi: Our Boy Wonder

By Russell Baillie

New Zealand film-maker Taika Waititi, director of the movie, Boy. Photo / Supplied
New Zealand film-maker Taika Waititi, director of the movie, Boy. Photo / Supplied

Director-actor Taika Waititi is TimeOut's NZ entertainer of the year. Here's why ...

Getting yet another accolade for his movie is probably enough to have Taika Waititi nodding off - just as he pretended to do at the Academy Awards a few years ago when his short film Two Cars, One Night was up for an Oscar.

That's apt because Two Cars was the blueprint for his second feature, one which laboured under the working title of The Volcano before changing its name to something that might have been less dramatic but which still blew up big time.

So as Waititi feigns sleep, let's say it again: 2010 was the year of Boy.

It became the all-time local box office champ. The $9 million it took at New Zealand cinemas was up there among the all-time blockbusters like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, despite being made for probably less than the catering bill on the Peter Jackson franchise.

And Boy's runaway success continues. In fact, to research this piece, I thought I'd better have another look at the movie. Attempting to buy a copy from the biggest book and DVD shop in Queen St, the establishment's all-time top 50 DVD shelf had Boy as its most popular flick. But not only was Boy its number one movie, it was the only one out of stock - and presumably headed into many a stocking this Christmas.

So Waititi - who starred in the film as well as writing and directing it - might deserve our New Zealand Entertainer of the Year title by force of numbers alone.

He's effectively entertained more of us than any single local talent has for a long time. And he's a singular talent too. One who, on this film, bridged the gap between art and pop culture, between drama and comedy, between Wellington ironic quirk and East Coast earthiness.

This was a film that might have paid tribute throughout to the late, great King of Pop - who died when the film was in the editing suite - with a Thriller-referenced dance number to the tune of the Patea Maori Club's 1984 anthem Poi E. But that finale also had more obscure inspiration too, in the tap dance sequence at the end of Japanese film Zatoichi, a version of the classic tale of The Blind Swordsman by Takeshi Kitano, another master of weaving seemingly disparate elements together and making them popular to a hometown crowd - even if they cause much cultural confusion further afield.

That's what Boy did. On the festival circuit, especially in the US, Waititi says he found audiences took Boy far too seriously especially when it came to elements in the film like the vast marijuana plot, the abandonment of the kids, the stash of money buried in the back paddock. They were incidental to the characters and the world being seen through the eyes of Boy (James Rolleston) and sometimes his little brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu).

And he did in Two Cars, the performances Waititi extracted from the kids in the movie puts long-time dwellers of Hogwarts and Narnia to shame.

Waititi wasn't too bad himself as Alamein, the ex-con returning father with aspirations to run his own gang.

His performance may have helped him get a bit-part in the forthcoming superhero movie The Green Lantern.

His long-time joke about his acting is that he "wants to be the next Cliff Curtis" - the established Hollywood regular having been, with his cousin Ainsley Gardiner, a producer on most of Waititi's projects.

Despite its big box office haul, it seems none of the creative team behind Boy has come out of the project rich. But at the film's outset, nobody could forsee its runaway potential.

After all, Waititi's first feature Eagle vs Shark had got him noticed and done reasonably well at home and abroad as an arthouse comedy. And though films about Maori kids on the East Coast had worked before, this one featured no sea mammals and no wise old adults needing to see the error of their ways.

But we embraced Boy anyway, with its whimsy, its mysticism, its bittersweet touches, its understated comedy and its utter Maori-ness.

It wasn't designed to be a feelgood movie. But that so many of us took it to heart, is surely something to feel good about in this country in this year of sadness.

So that's why Taika Waititi is TimeOut's New Zealand Entertainer of the Year. We hopes he likes the title and he sees it as a fair trade.

For what? For Boy. Because it's not just his movie any more. It's ours.

The Top Spots

Taika Waititi's Boy won yet more accolades last night, taking home the major trophies at the Visa Entertainment Screen Awards.

The ceremony for the prizes - voted for by the public - was hosted by Kate Rodger of TV3's movie show Reel Late with Kate saw James Rolleston, who played the lead character in the film, win Best New Zealand Actor - the newcomer faced competition from Waititi himself, Sam Neil and Martin Henderson.

Rolleston was also on hand to win Best Newcomer, while Waititi won Best Director, and Boy took away Best NZ Film.

Rose McIver from The Lovely Bones won Best NZ Actress, James Cameron's Avatar was voted Best International Film and Sam Neill was awarded Best NZ Export.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls took out Best NZ Big Screen Documentary and The Six Dollar Fifty Man was awarded Best NZ Short Film.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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