Based on the Barry Crump novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the most delightful movie I have seen in a long time! Both wild and safe, adult and childish, director Taika Waititi has spun together this story with the perfect humour for such a Kiwi adventure. He takes us through some heavy stuff while managing to keep a spring in our step.
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a defiant young city kid, finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle Hec (Sam Neill) and their dog Tupac. A national manhunt ensues and the two have to get over their differences to survive, or risk being held to account by a woman from Child, Youth and Family (Rachel House).
Julian Dennison’s performance as the rebellious foster kid Ricky Baker who has spent his youth breaking things, stealing things, vandalizing things, loitering and much more – is outstanding. He manages to capture the loneliness of a character who is desperately trying to put on a brave face and not care if people like him or not, while at the same time, delivers on the laughs like a boss! I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to not fall in love with him and want to give him a million hugs.
The same can be said for Sam Neill’s character Hec. Although abrasive and a bit of a dick, Hec is still a character with a lot of heart who’s protective nature appears gradually throughout the adventure. Sam Neill is surprisingly (well to me anyway) a very convincing wild hermit-like man.
Rima Te Wiata is perfect as Ricky’s foster aunt, Bella, who eventually makes Ricky feel at home (with the help of a hot water bottle) in the remote house she shares with her bushman partner, Hec. She’s not portrayed as a perfect Mother figure or a Saint – but as a woman with a troubled past who wants to make others feel loved and wanted. Rima pulls off the quirky comedy scenes with ease and is the focal point of my favourite scene from the whole film – Ricky’s Birthday (which she apparently improvised on the day of shooting!).
Ricky and Hec encounter several strange characters on their journey. Rhys Darby appears out of nowhere as the crazy conspiracy theorist Psycho Sam. Unfortunately I think he is a little too absurd for the underlying ‘realness’ of this comedy. Rachel House and Oscar Kightley have pretty decent sized roles as the people heading up the hunt for Ricky and Sam. They both do a good job, but end up seeming almost clownish, which doesn’t mesh well with the over-all tone of the film.
This heartfelt comedy has easily taken the number one spot on my list of favourite New Zealand Films. You’ll laugh loudly, try not to cry and maybe even leave feeling a little challenged.