There is a certain element about movies that are released in Sundance. They have this part-emotional, part-humorous, part-sentimental and yet overall a very happy-go-lucky feel to them, and the best part about these movies is the sweet after-taste they leave, that is etched in your memory long after you have watched them.
Refreshing concept, the story starts with the introduction of the movie’s lead Ricky (Julian Dennison) aka ‘A Bad Egg’ :).
Ricky is a hip-hop loving, haiku writing gangsta who is currently with child protection services after jumping a few homes and is finally dropped, on the laps of Bella (Rime Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill), by his batty child-services worker Paula (Rachel House). Ricky begins to adapt to his new home and is slowly settling in, but tragedy strikes when Bella unexpectedly passes away and the child services agency is now no longer okay leaving Ricky solely with Hector. So it becomes family hunting time for Ricky again. Ricky, however is no longer interested in going back to the city since he knows that his future (based on his past) will lead him straight to juvenile detention. Ricky thus escapes to “The Bush” (a million hectares of dense forest with little to no contact with civilization) and Hec goes chasing him. Once Hec comes to his eventual rescue, an accident strands the pair, causing Paula to believe that Hec has kidnapped the boy.
Thus begins the cat and mouse game and the Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
For starters, the cast is brilliant. The lead Julian Dennison, who is in his third movie, shows acting skills far beyond his age and is delightful as problem child, Ricky. His confused teenage self: a self-reliant yet dependent boy, creating a façade of emotional strength hiding his innate need and desire to be loved by someone is beautifully depicted and poignant.
His care takers/foster parents Bella (Rime Te Wiata) as the big hearted motherly loving types really does a heart-warming job and Hec (Sam Neill of Jurassic Park fame) as the crotchety ex-con bushman excels in his performance of a man trying to stay away from the deliquent but who eventually gets drawn to Ricky’s innocence. A special mention goes to the nutty child-services worker Paula (Rachel House) who acts as the love child of Rambo in SWAT gear with the attitude of a bad Robocop. 🙂
Directed by Taika Waititi, who has this distinctive family-adult brand of humor, which was the highlight of his vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows”, brings his finesse to the movie and it is such a fresh delight. The comedy in “Wilderpeople” is quieter than his mockumentary, which makes the story ‘real’. I honestly can’t wait for his mainstream “debut” with the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. His ability to balance humor and action, fits perfectly with the Marvel superhero and here’s hoping him well with the same.
One of the insights I realized was how the movie touches upon an aspect of life, which is an addendum to its flavor. It highlights how past actions dictate the future, it shows the meaning to freedom and how people who need to break free from their past struggle to do so at times, and due to which their future actions are pre-determined by forces beyond their control. The film gives hope to those who believe that freedom is possible and we are in control of our own destiny.
On one end, Wilderpeople showcases a hilariously intensified world. On the other end, it might nullify the ‘people’ aspect of it seeing that it engages in reductio ad absurdum, but it’s mitigated by a strong sense of warmth, sweetness and humanity pervading the entire film. In short, I’d recommend you find the DVD version, flame up a bag of popcorn and chill on a Sunday afternoon watching the Wilderpeople. 🙂