Three Imaginary Girls

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The film Boy, by Taika Watiti, is about a boy whom everyone calls Boy. He’s earnest and guileless, and prone to fisticuffs, but basically a good kid. He lives with his grandmother, along with his younger brother and a passel of cousins. Grandmother kicks off the movie by leaving for a week or so to attend a funeral in a neighboring town. It turns out that “leaving” means “entirely without any other adult supervision.” Boy is the eldest, or at least the most senior, so he makes everyone dinner, keeps them occupied until bedtime, then helps tuck them into bed.

Boy is delightful for a lot of reasons, and one is that the movie isn’t really about this potentially rather shocking absence of parental oversight, or about the fairly profound poverty they all live in, which seems not to weigh on them any more than it might on a middle-class American kid who never has as much pocket money as he wants to buy candy or video games. They entertain themselves contentedly in the derelict cars on their respective properties and hang out at the river or on the beach. Watiti likely knew that the majority of his audience wouldn’t be super familiar with daily life in a Maori town in the mid-eighties, but nothing in the film reads as anthropological curiosity.

In the end, the trouble only starts when a few adults do show up. Boy’s dad, Alamein, has recently exited (been released from?) prison, along with two other ne’er-do-wells who he’s fashioned into a gang of a vintage stripe—closer to the T-Birds than the Crips, with leather jackets and a logo.

Boy’s been longing for his dad’s return and idolizing him freely without any troubling evidence to the contrary, but his dad turns out to be, in most respects, much more of a child than Boy himself, and the movie follows Boy’s dawning understanding of what it means to be an adult. Watiti also plays Boy’s dad, and he’s a fantastic comedic actor who I’d love to see in something else now. He plays Alamein (aka Shogun) with neither vanity nor a wink.

Stylistically, Boy is a lot like a Wes Anderson movie, but warmer (n.b. I’m not in the camp who considers Anderson’s movies to be soul-less, but Boy is still softer edged). It’s got animated sidebars and curious characters both open-hearted and quirky. And like much of Anderson’s oeuvre, it’s mostly about what kids need to do when their parents aren’t as grown up as they should be.

{Boy screens at SIFF on May 26th, 6:30pm at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, and on June 4th, 6:30pm and June 6th, 4:30pm at Neptune Theatre}