Charming but kind of empty, Taika Waititi’s Boy is thankfully not as precious or self-consciously quirky as its logline might have you believe. A Michael Jackson-obsessed kid in rural New Zealand in the ’80s is simply named Boy, and when his absent father comes into town, he’s eager to get to know the man, even though the ex-con is back for a reason other than reconnecting with his kids. This is a film that features crudely animated fantasy sequences and a kid brother who thinks he has magical abilities, but also one that features a not insignificant amount of time pondering death and the ways we delude ourselves to avoid pain.
Writer/director Waititi, who also plays deadbeat dad Alamein, does an OK job balancing the tones, but doesn’t really succeed at establishing a strong sense of place or time — unusual for a film that was reportedly inspired by his growing up in New Zealand in the 1980s. Waititi certainly owes a great debt to Wes Anderson; his compositions and editing are less-precise but reasonable facsimiles, but this manufactured, idyllically golden version of a poor rural community robs the film’s more emotionally fraught moments of their potency. It’s all a fantasy anyway, right? (Anderson’s canny ability to avoid this pitfall is not appreciated enough.)
Still, there are a number of pretty irresistible charms here, chief being the disarming lead performance of first-timer James Rolleston as Boy. Whether he’s moonwalking in a futile attempt to impress his crush, casually imitating some behavioral tic of his father’s or playing off a butchered haircut as the latest, MJ-inspired style, Rolleston is just ridiculously likable. Perhaps even better is Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu as younger brother Rocky, a more sensitive and introspective kid than Boy. Eketone-Whitu is the most convincing at portraying the heartbreak that rings around the edges of the film.
The Blu-ray Disc
Boy is presented in 1080p high definition and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film looks fantastic, with bright, natural colors, a consistently sharp image, strong clarity and no significant damage anywhere. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is pretty tame, sticking mostly to the fronts for the dialogue-heavy film, but it’s a clean, crisp track. Unfortunately, no English subtitles are included, which could have been useful for some of the heavily accented dialogue. (It’s all in English.)
A couple extras of note on the disc, including Waititi’s Oscar-nominated short film Two Cars, One Night, an unwieldy collection of B-roll footage and behind-the-scenes interviews, and the film’s theatrical trailer.
The Bottom Line
Certainly a crowd-pleaser, and a good-looking disc to boot.