From the Archives: Hunt for the Wilderpeople review

From the Archives: Hunt for the Wilderpeople review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Curmudgeonly adult is forced to spend time with a rambunctious youngster and despite their inherent differences, they eventually bond. It’s a tale as old as cinema, yet Taika Waititi’s delightful adventure-comedy strips the template of cliché and delivers the most plainly enjoyable film of the year. Funny, exciting, and deeply moving, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, even though you’ve seen plenty of things like it. Ricky Baker is a city kid raised on hip-hop and junk food. He’s not necessarily bad, but the stuffy authority figures of the world don’t take kindly to mischief, and if the boisterous 13-year-old doesn’t take to his new foster family in the form of a kindly matriarch and her cantankerous husband, Ricky is going to be moved to juvenile detention. It’s his last strike, and when his ‘aunt’ (Rima Te Wiata) offers love, structure, and a pet dog, things begin look up for young Ricky…

…but then tragedy strikes and when it looks like he might be scooped back into the system against his will, he decides to set out into the bush to escape the grasp of child services. Unfortunately for Ricky, his survival skills leave a lot to be desired, and when his new ‘uncle’ Hector (Sam Neill, in an Oscar-worthy performance) begrudgingly finds himself lost in the wild at his side, the adventure begins.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople avoids every twee trapping that befalls your standard ‘quirky coming of age story,’ and establishes Waititi (BoyWhat We Do in the Shadows) as a visual force to be reckoned with. His camera catches the wilderness of New Zealand in an honest and breathtaking lens. The natural beauty comes forth from the screen without any sense of cinematic heightening. Much like L.A. Story exhibited Steve Martin’s love for Los Angeles, Hunt for the Wilderpeople makes Waititi’s affection for his home country damn near tangible.

The humor is not as zany as in What We Do in the Shadows, but it is just as steeped in pop-culture savvy. There’s a mix of Edgar Wright-esque self-awareness and real world character-driven humor that achieves a nice balance of comedic sensibilities. I am unfamiliar with Barry Crump’s source novel (Wild Pork and Watercress) and am unable to comment how similar the tone/story is, but if it’s even a little bit as charming as the film adaptation, I’d certainly like to read it.

wilder-postOf COURSE Rhys Darby shows up and gives a cameo for the ages, but the real MVP is Rachel House as Paula, the no-nonsense child services worker that plays the Samuel Gerard to Ricky’s Dr. Richard Kimble. Her misguided enthusiasm in hunting down our protagonists results in a grand comic performance that, much like the rest of the film, transcends stylistic trappings by tweaking a trope into something inspired. If Hunt for the Wilderpeople ends up being as quotable as it deserves to be, the bulk of it will be provided by this one character. I’m snickering at the thought of her as I type this.

See this movie. Pay the money, go to the theater. See this movie. There have been plenty of similar films, but none quite like it. It’s the feel-good movie that’s so good that I almost feel like I don’t deserve it. Instant classic. Go see this movie.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople opens today in Philly area theaters.

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