Imagine being only 11 years old and given the responsibility of looking after your younger brother and cousins because your grandmother, and only guardian, is leaving for two weeks. “Boy” is about growing up and confronting the disappointing reality.
Taking us back to 1984, the year after Michael Jackson’s 14-minute music video “Thriller” came out (the album “Thriller” came out in 1982) and the year that Jackson was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame as a solo artist.
In far-away New Zealand, Alamein (James Rolleston) is known as boy because he is named as after his father. He lives on a small farm in the Waihau Bay, Bay of Plenty region, with his paternal grandmother (Mavis Paenga), younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) and several cousins and his pet goat.
Soon after his grandmother leaves for a funeral, Boy’s father returns with two men, a gang he calls “Crazy Horses.” At first Boy is happy, believing his father has come to take him and Rocky away to live with him, but his father, Alamein has been away in jail and is back to find a bag of money he left buried on the farm. His time at the farm isn’t without positive aspects. He cuts Boy’s hair to look like Michael Jackson. He helps Boy deal with bullies, but he doesn’t want to be a dad. He’d prefer to be called “Shogun.”
In the end, Boy is disappointed in his father, and his father is humanized and humiliated. Yet director Taika Waititi gives us a surprise to end us with an uplifting and hopeful ending. The performances are sweet and unaffected. Without confronting the inequities of Maoris in New Zealand, “Boy” tells us about the life and struggle of one family and shows how the Maori culture is influenced by outside influences, even from as far as the US (Micheal Jackson) and Japan (Shogun). Yet those are fantasies and not reality. Still Waititi allows for some humor, particularly at the end.
“Boy” won the AFI FEST Audience Award and the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize (World Cinema). “Boy” is available on Amazon Prime Video.