It’s no secret that “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is on my top films of 2016 list. Screening first at Sundance, the film has traveled the festival circuit allowing me to see it more than once—that’s how much I liked it. Taika Waititi, writer and director, creates a sublime and heartfelt adventure story that encompasses the need to family and love. Based on the book by Barry Crump, Sam Neill and Julian Dennison take on the lead roles to bring this story to a hilariously “majestical” level.
Ricky Baker (Dennison) is a “troubled” young teen who has been bounced from foster home to foster home. He does dreadful things like spit and kick things. Awful. Simply awful. His final straw before going to “juvie” is living in the remote outback with the loving milk of the earth Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and the grumpy old curmudgeon Hec (Neill) who he soon comes to call Auntie and Uncle, much to Hec’s chagrin. After Bella suddenly passes away, Baker runs away to avoid being picked up by the evil social worker and her cohort who will place him in “juvie.” Hec finds him and the two inadvertently end up running from the authorities, living in the bush, and creating quite a stir.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a masterpiece of comedy and drama mixing in the theme of love and family. The story is preposterously delightful as we watch the two attempt to hike and survive in the bush with little to no supplies. Hec and Ricky get to know one another, but not without a few hilarious and sometimes heart-wrenching episodes. Their relationship is simply beautiful as we get to know these complex and misunderstood sweethearts. The film becomes a vertiable mouse hunt as they stay just steps away from the law. It’s a fast-paced film with non-stop creative dialogue and perfectly timed comedic relief. Throw in a bit of action such as helicopter and tank chase scenes and you’ve got the perfectly balanced film. Never have I laughed so hard one minute and then gasped as a tear welled in my eye the next, with never a dull moment.
Neill is always a joy to see in any film, but never have I seen him play such a role to elicit the emotional ups and downs as well as the laughs. Both Neill and Dennison seem to have such a natural rapport that a sense of genuine father-son love exudes…begrudingly from Neill, of course. Dennison has the comedic timing the likes of any seasoned comic. His physical reactions and expressions are simply priceless. He’s a kid that you just adore from the moment he utters his first line. Rachel House (Paula) is the epitome of a jaded social worker who wanted to be a cop. An American cop. Her performance is wonderfully over the top creating a persona of someone you love to root against.
Waititi, known for the recent “What We Do in the Shadows,” fine tunes his ability to create a complex and truly funny film in “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” As I learned at Sundance, working with these talented actors helped to add and refine the script as they went along. He joked with the audience that, “The whole thing was scripted at one point. It’s sad for the writers to not hear the lines stated properly, but sometimes you just gotta let those lines go.” Neill then put the blame on Darby who didn’t deny a thing. (SEE THE VIDEO HERE). One can only imagine the antics that occurred during the filming.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful scenery and cinematography showcasing New Zealand and the Bush. It’s breathtakingly inviting as we are privy to various places throughout New Zealand. Between “Lord of the Rings” and this film, NZ is a country on my top list of places to visit, but not in the winter.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a refreshingly entertaining movie that will allow you to truly escape into their world all the while laughing, crying, gasping, and laughing again. What other movie could possibly include a gun-toting, tank-driving social worker, chase scenes, and two unlikely characters that are so endearing to you that forget this is a totally preposterous scenario. Great acting, directing, and cinematography complete this recipe for success.