Written and directed by Taika Waititi.
You wanna see a movie that makes you laugh, cry, feel good, wonder at nature's marvels, and curse nature's cruelties, all at the same time? Go see "Wilderpeople." It's great. I had postponed seeing it, time and again, thinking it might not be my cup of tea. Finally, I gave way. I'm glad I did – I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end.
Based on a novel "Wild Pork and Watercress" by Barry Crump, this New Zealand film is a gem. Ricky is a city kid from the wrong side of the tracks. In trouble with the police, in and out of foster homes and families, he's headed for disaster. In desperation, the child welfare people send him to a farm in New Zealand's wild bush country, owned by aunt Bella and uncle Hec. They are Ricky's last hope. As Paula, his child welfare officer tells him, if Bella and Hec don't work out, then it's back to detention. Ricky and Hec don't like the look of each other, but Bella is delighted to have someone to mother. She's warm, welcoming and chatty, Hec is gruff, suspicious and taciturn. Then Bella dies suddenly. Threatened with a return to child detention, Ricky flees into the bush with Hec in reluctant pursuit. Through a series of accidents and misunderstandings, Ricky and Hec become the subject of a national manhunt by the police and the child welfare people. Thrown together by force of circumstance, the old man and the young boy slowly forge an increasingly-friendly relationship.
The acting performances in this movie are outstanding. As Hec, the gruff and grumpy foster father, Sam Neill gives a brilliant performance. He is the only "big name" in the cast, and he does the film proud. As Ricky, a young actor, Julian Dennison, is outstanding. In virtually every scene, with a massive speaking part, Dennison is just right as the almost-teenager growing increasingly confident with, and closer to, the slowly-melting Hec. The dialogue between these two is sharp, witty, warm, and very, very funny. Ricky sees their plight as a romantic adventure, gangsters on the run from the cops, while the more realistic Hec is much more cautious and down-to-earth about their precarious situation. But don't ignore Rachel House: she plays Paula, the child welfare officer, who oozes concern for her errant clients, but shows a comically ruthless, stop-at-nothing determination to recover Ricky. She steals almost every scene she is in; sadly she's not in enough of them!
This movie has several strands to its story. In part, a "buddy" movie. In part, a "road" movie (even though most of their escape journey is on foot). In part, a "man against the wilderness" movie. Even, in part, a "man against ruthless, uncaring bureaucracy" film. It has echoes of "The Fugitive", "The Revenant", and even "Thelma and Louise". Not to mention a strong dash of "Mad Max" too. As in any road movie worth its salt, Ricky and Hec meet up with various memorable characters along the way, such as a trio of slightly sinister hunters, and the reclusive eccentric "Psycho Sam" who is convinced the government is out to get him. All these supporting roles are beautifully played.
The film is superbly shot in magnificent, mountainous bush country in New Zealand. Try to see the movie on the big screen if you can; the scenery shots are almost worth the price of admission alone. The film is slightly less than two hours long, and is expertly directed and edited. Faults are few. I thought the final confrontation with the forces of authority was a little too Hollywood-ish, a little too formulaic. Maybe the producers thought a good car chase sequence was necessary to give the film some US appeal. It's actually a very good car-chase sequence; it's just that we've seen it all before.
However, don't let this minor (a very minor) criticism put you off. This is a delightful, quirky, engaging, funny, sad, but ultimately uplifting film. I think it is suitable for all ages, though the traumatic scene with rampaging wildlife might put off some viewers. It is an adventure/drama/social commentary movie for sure, but one with a grin on its face.
Don't miss it.
Gilbert's star rating (out of five): * * * * 1/2