July 9th, 2016
MOVIE: HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
STARRING: SAM NEILL; JULIAN DENNISON; RHYS DARBY; RACHEL HOUSE
DIRECTED BY: TAIKA WAITITI
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The world will remember the name Ricky Baker. A simple Google search of him reveals actor Julian Dennison with his Hunt for the Wilderpeople war paint on his face. That’s only the tip of the charisma and swagger that this small in stature, but big in life character brings to Taika Waitti’s newest film. It stars Dennison and Sam Neil, as an unlikely pair, lost in the New Zealand brush mountains. They are surviving together off the land, running from the police, and building on a friendship they never knew they could have. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a laugh riot and one of the best comedies of 2016.
The appeal to Wilderpeople starts with writer and director Waititi, whose 2015 smash hit What We Do in the Shadows, was a revival of smart, documentary style comedies, such as This is Spinal Tap. This time, he has made a witty narrative film, based on the Barry Crump book Wild Pork and Watercress. The humor is sharp and the relationship between the two main characters is kind, similar in comparison to a live action version of Pixar’s UP.
It begins with little Ricky arriving at the home of Bella (Rema Te Wiata) and Hec (played by a bearded and surly Sam Neil). Wearing a flat brim leopard hat and Nike gym shoes, Ricky has been under the watch of child services, being labeled a “bad egg”. Head officer Paula (Rachel House) has made it her goal to find a place for the child, while keeping a consistent eye on him, claiming “No Child Left Behind” as her motto. His arrival to this new home is less than exciting, as Ricky sees it as another temporary spot before being shoved off to the next takers. Only this time, Bella has a no-nonsense attitude towards Ricky. He speaks tough, calling himself a gangster, but he deeply wishes to have a friend like Bella.
When Bella unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, it leaves Ricky back where he began, and forces Hec into the position of guardian- a responsibility he has no interest in being bestowed upon him. Hec is a hunter and a man of the brush, with Sam Neil playing a familiar part as the forced father figure, ala Jurassic Park. Ricky Baker is the superstar of the film. Wise for his age, he loves to make his own haiku’s, and has a mindset that he can live alone. This leads to Ricky running off into the brush and Hec searching after him. When Hec injures his foot, it leaves the two of them stuck in the forest where their friendship builds, while the child service group now views Hec as a child abductor and the two of them as fugitives.
It helps that Hunt for the Wilderpeople is directed by someone who excels at hitting comedic beats. Taika Waititi realizes that mixed pair comedies have been done before, so he must have a win with his cast and his script melting together, making this a journey for the audience. He does all of this and more, breaking the film up into chapters, which sets the tone for each segment ahead. Even when his character’s are moronic, specifically those in child services, the movie never laughs at them, it only let’s their characters flourish. When Hec and Ricky encounter Rhys Darby’s doomsday theory and appropriately named Psycho Sam, he only elevates the eye poppingly hilarious characters. On top of that, Wilderpeople has one of the best car chase sequences of the year, which is something we never see in comedies.
At the time of this review’s publication, the United States of America had a week where Police were killed in Dallas and Black civilians were wrongfully killed by police. Needless to say, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is something that everyone needs to go and see. We need joy and happiness more than ever. It has the humor to make us laugh, the charm to warm our hearts, and an ending that feels honest in every way. Did I mention that this is one of the best comedies of 2016? Take a chance and see the fantastic Ricky Baker become the king of the Wilderpeople. Deep down there is a kid like him in all of us.
3 ½ Stars
Written by: Leo Brady