Young ne’er-do-well Ricky (Julian Dennison) is sent to live with foster parents on a farm in the woods of New Zealand. When the foster mother (Rima Te Wiata) dies (at the end of a brief but wonderful performance), Ricky and his gruff foster father (Sam Neill) must learn to get along, particularly when they are hunted by social services and the police due to a massive miscommunication.
Taika Waititi’s directing has a comic energy to it; the story a child-like charm. Waititi’s cameo itself is arguably the funniest scene of the film. This said, Wilderpeople has plenty of comedy to be had amid its montages of the lead pair running through the rural environment. Only at rare moments, such as the scenes involving Rhys Darby’s Psycho Sam character, does the comedy fall flat. Darby, while being a comic treasure, is playing a character a bit too wacky for the film he is in.
The film’s formal style elements match the tone of juvenile levity. Warm lighting and the lush green landscapes provide a backdrop for coming-of-age adventurism. The light spirit of it all is what truly drives the film. Performances from the young Dennison and Neill don’t hurt any, either. Nor does a heartwarming narrative of finding family from abandonment.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople has a marvelous handling of tone and vision. It doesn’t attempt at anything grandiose, but the little bit of thematic substance we get is enough to supplement the quality comedy.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)