A film about a fat kid obsessed with being a gangster, an irritable older man and a dog named Tupac doesn’t exactly scream ‘film of the year.’ Yet that’s what many people have said about ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople.’
Directed and written by Taika Waititi, based off of the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, the film is an understated drama comedy about companionship.
Ricky (Julian Dennison) is an abandoned delinquent who has been taken from his city life and left with foster carers Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) in a remote farm in the middle of New Zealand.
Waititi builds the relationship between Ricky and Aunt Bella with affection while making you cry with laughter. Bella’s first encounter with ‘fat kid’ Ricky sets the tone of the movie perfectly with the line: ‘what you wanna do, you hungry? That’s a silly question, isn’t it? Look at you.’
But it is the relationship and wild adventure that Ricky and Uncle Hec share that is the heart of the movie.
Faking his own death, with the use of a basketball and old clothes, Ricky burns down the barn and leaves his foster home with his dog Tupac. Hec’s efforts to find Ricky leads the social services to assume that an unstable Hec has kidnapped him, and thus a comical man hunt begins.
Combining a cantankerous Hec and a senseless Ricky in the middle of New Zealand’s bush leads to sacrifices, a lot of misunderstandings and even more laughs.
A standoff with a group of hunters results in one of the film’s best comedic scenes. A daft Ricky unknowingly insinuates that uncle Hec had sexually harassed him, telling the men ‘he made me do stuff.’ The back and forth between an exasperated Hec, confused Ricky and the concerned hunters is comedic genius.
Dennison is a constant scene stealer, managing to balance Ricky’s snappy one liners with subtle emotion, reminding us that underneath the ‘gangster’ facade, he is still an abandoned kid.
The film is not one built on sentiment, but through the laughter it manages to become not only one of the best comedies, but one of the best heartfelt dramas.
The relationship between Ricky and Uncle Hec is characteristic of two puzzle pieces that do not fit together. They are a far cry from a match made in heaven. But the film’s portrayal of the raw and complex nature of humanity makes them exactly what the other needs; they just refuse to admit it.
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLsSChvm0qw
Visit the film’s website: http://wilderpeople.film/#
Empire Film Review: http://www.empireonline.com/movies/hunt-wilderpeople/review/
Barry Crump’s original book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Pork-Watercress-Barry-Crump/dp/0143573748: