“I didn’t choose the skuxx life, the skuxx life chose me.”
I LOVED ‘What We Do In The Shadows‘ (never seen it? It’s on Netflix – go watch then come back here and thank me) which led me to have supremely high expectations for this, Taika Waititi’s follow up. I was not disappointed. Not only did I laugh continuously it ended up being a very personal watching experience. As an East London secondary school teacher I’ve met, know and have taught lots of Ricky Bakers. From the kid who fist-bumps me whenever they see me as we have the same surname; to the boy whose ‘vision’ for the next year is to gain 350 YouTube followers; to the girl who constantly berates me for not wearing fake-tan and the boy constantly sent out of class who wrote me a letter telling me his dream of going to university and becoming a marine biologist – they are all Ricky Bakers. It was truly wonderful seeing such a familiar – scarily familiar – teenager who may have his faults but is so kind-hearted and hilarious when given the chance.
Ricky Baker (Dennison) is a ‘bad egg’. Having been in care all his life he’s been continuously packed off from one place to another and his antisocial behaviour is only worsening. When dropped off by social care worker Paula (House) at the home of Bella (Wiata) and Hector (Neill) Ricky is told in no-uncertain terms that this is his last chance. Bella and Ricky swiftly form a strong bond but when she is suddenly gone and separation from Hector is imminent the pair go rogue in the New Zealand Bush. Soon a national manhunt begins looking for rebellious Ricky and the more than reluctant Hector.
The tone of the story is superb – balancing loads of laughs with a whole lotta love. I’m loathe to use the term “quirky” (I automatically form a less than flattering view of anyone who describes themselves a such) and yet it’s a suitable adjective to describe both the story and its players. I began rooting for Ricky as soon as he did his investigative lap of his new home then, dissatisfied at his findings, returned to the car of his social worker. I began to adore him when he revealed he used haiku as a calming mechanism (can you tell I’m an English teacher?) . I was truly endeared when he read out the Wanted poster of him and Hector and said, “Faulkner is cauc-asian” – well, they got that wrong because you’re obviously white.” Julian Dennison plays the hip-hop loving gangster-wannabe Ricky so well, with such feist and ‘majectical’-ness, that this is surely only the beginning of a long career in film.
But what would a buddy-drama be without the straight-guy buddy? Sam Neill as the gruff and tight-lipped Hector is wonderful, truly marvellous in the role. The friendship that he forms with Ricky is ruddy lovely to watch and immensely heart-warming. Their rapport results in so many gags and often a fair few tears. It gently reminds us that we can learn so much from the most unexpected places and people, whilst also making us guffaw at the resulting scraps they have.
A mention is also much deserved for Waititi’s cameo as a Minister who ends up being a solid second for best religious themed cameo – with Peter Cook’s ‘mawwiage’-proclaiming clergymen from ‘The Princess Bride’ obviously taking the top spot. Another mention needs to go to the film’s soundtrack, particularly the use of Nina Simon’s ‘Sinnerman‘ which is used quite wonderfully.
It’s a wonderfully delightful yet bittersweet film that brings all the laughs. To conclude this review I leave you with one of Ricky’s haikus – “Kingi you wanker / You arsehole, I hate you heaps / Please die soon, in pain.”
Go see it. You won’t regret it. Guaranteed.
Dir: Taika Waititi
Country: New Zealand Year: 2016 Run time: 101 minutes
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is in UK cinemas September 16th.