Almost A Classic: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople indexThe mantle is ready to be passed from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ to this charmer

I’m not sure what specifically in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ made it not a match for me as a viewer, as most of the Marvel films have at least garnered a 5/10 in my list. It could be that I prefer Taika Waititi’s farcical tendencies rather than the kind of humour blueprint that the Marvel instalment offered. Even if it isn’t able to reach ‘masterpiece’ category, it’s still something that I hope writers would continue to refer to while developing their script. After all, you can’t reach an 8/10 without going through a 4 and 7. Maybe you can, if you’re the sort who can edit using your mind.

The Setup: Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a problem child. Because of his penchant to be a trouble-maker, the social worker assigned to him (Paula) has decided that a change of scenery might be helpful to him. His new foster mum (Bella Faulkner), is looking forward to his arrival but her husband (Hec) isn’t so welcoming. Ricky prides himself to be ‘gansta’ but he eventually warms up to Bella’s (Rima Te Wiata) approach. We realise that this kid is just looking for a safe place to be himself. It also helps that his new guardians live away from other people (where the nearest neighbour is probably 30-40 minutes away) and are usually around to keep an eye for any malarkey.

The Inciting Incident: Bella dies. I know it’s a bit manipulative to let the warmer parent die (and in Ricky’s case, probably the person who was convincing enough to be granted guardianship), but in the case of our story, it really pushes the plot forward. Hec receives a letter from Paula that Ricky would have to return to state custody until a new home is found for him. Since our little aspiring gangster has acclimated and now has a soft spot for the Faulkner home, he isn’t keen on leaving the place anytime soon. Unfortunately, he is the only one who feels that way as the man of the house agrees with the Child Welfare staffer. Even after Hec gives the child all sorts of reasons why, the foster child comes up with points to get him to reconsider (even as far as suggesting that new wives can be found on the internet).

The Stakes: Ricky finding his ‘forever home’. Intent not to return back to state care, our protagonist comes up with a plan to prevent that: torching an effigy of himself in the shed (is it big enough to be a barn?) with a note that it was him in it to stop the search. He doesn’t realise though that by starting a fire around combustible materials, it is bound to spread. So the fire takes down the whole shed along with his note (the one saying that he did the aforementioned things). Of course, the effigy’s face doesn’t burn off and Paula knows that the boy made a run for it (despite Andy suggestion that it was the doing of Hec).

The explanation on why the Kiwi had managed this intricate balancing act of farce, deadpan humour and may be described best in the words of Brian Tallerico. To me, it’s a reminder that as long as sufficient time is invested in a project, the product would reflect it. Shonda Rhimes is blessed to have the ability of writing and editing in her head compared to others who need to get things out and tweak them, bit by bit. Because of the whole comparison issue, other writers think that they have failed if they are not able to get their story right in the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth draft. Looking at 2019’s ‘Booksmart’, lesser producers would be satisfied with what appeared on one of the initial versions of the script. Thankfully, the right ones secured financing and we are presented with a much better version.

I hadn’t read Barry Crump’s book that the film was based on but after finding out what it’s called (‘Wild Pork and Watercress’), I couldn’t help but be amused. Taika also somehow works well during scenes where characters are just standing around delivering their lines. In the hands of someone less skilled, it’ll come out as one of those empty expositional scenes. It probably helps that each one of the cast are equally capable. An example is during Act 1 when Ricky’s handover happens. Even Oscar Kightley (as Constable Andy Tappert) comes across as compelling even if his job is literally to stand around and keep four main expressions: bouncer mode, bored, curious, and amused.

Comedic Moments:

  • A Literal piggyback
  • The montage of Ricky’s rap sheet
  • Ricky’s name choice for the dog
  • Preteen Haikus
  • Bella’s song for Ricky

One of the notable qualities of the film is that it manages to feel independent and yet able to look like there wasn’t a lack of funds (or at least the accountants weren’t wringing their hands trying to make every dollar count). I don’t usually notice the lack (or plushness) of a film’s budget, and it’s only when made to really dig into finding the little things that might make the film better (I don’t think I’d find one – aside from spending lesser time on the romance arc).

Even with all its charm, what unspools the story (even it isn’t solely relying on plot points) is the struggle to put together a satisfying climax and resolution. It’s also proof how much the film has impressed us so far that we’re (including critics from LA Times, The GuardianTime, and Empire) open to forgive this oversight. I had been holding on to ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ as an example of a charmer that found its way to existence without backing (or money) from the big brands and since it has now aged, I think this film is a good choice to be the bearer of its torch.

There’s also the comment about how this is likely what Pixar would attempt if it would ever venture out in live action. I would probably tweak that a bit, as I feel that this would be too edgy and dark (particularly the wild pig slaughter scene) to be a good representation of the Pixar brand (which is more earnest and motivational). Specifically, I couldn’t see Pixar doing satire or farce, but was reminded that ‘Brave’ has some farcial elements about it. Though like the award winning animation studio does give a a raw look at what the young have going on in their brains. In a way, this one really gives you that ‘Kids Say The Darnest Things’ vibe.

Since I am a big fan of subtle humour, it is difficult for me to believe (as I mentioned in a previous review) that a scene crammed with so many jokes can appeal to me. It’s just a reminder that anything can appeal to anyone, in the right hands. What’s more, this film manages to achieve what many could only dream of: nonsensical humour (like the one with a minister talking about Jesus being sneaky). If you’re still at lost for finding the film that can accompany family traditions (maybe something that plays in the background during your birthday lunch), I’d be happy to put this in the running.

Leigh Lim.
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