Director: Taika Waititi. Starring: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi. Running time: 87 minutes.
Boy is a warm, curiously endearing coming-of-age story set in that that now quaint and vanished epoch when Michael Jackson could be praised — without a shred of irony or melancholy — as the most amazing person on Earth. The gloved wonder looms like a sparkly constellation far above the head of the title hero, an 11-year-old Maori lad who lives in a gorgeously rustic New Zealand coastal town, along with his weirdo younger brother, some cousins, their nan and an ornery pet goat. Boy's cheerfulness and boundless imagination acts as a buffer to poverty and loneliness; his mother is dead and his erratic father is more a legend than a parent at this point.
When his dad (Taika Waititi) does roll back into town after a lengthy jail stint, his son must reconcile the sometimes-embarrassing truth with the heroic fables he's spun. Dad is a dreamer himself, a scruffy scam artist filled with big talk and big goals, but little ability. Alamein (named after the World War II battle) has a cool car and a leather jacket with a logo on the back, though his "gang" consists of a pair of dimwit stoner buddies. While he's mostly back in town to find a pile of buried loot, he does make attempts at bonding with his sons. Although Dad compares himself to the Incredible Hulk, in that he sometimes gets angry and breaks things, he's usually trying to do good.
This is the second feature for writer-director Waititi, who made the adorably funny but excessively winsome indie romance Eagle vs. Shark back in 2007. Boy is a richer, more affecting film, with real emotion behind all the funky, homemade visual invention and borderline glibness, with smart, natural performances helping to even out the quirk. This little charmer fits right in with recent years' Submarine and Son of Rambow, other clever puberty sagas set in '80s, but Boy hums with its own distinct deadpan tingle. The creative Waititi could be called a Kiwi Wes Anderson, which is not a slight, but a hope that there are more films as good as this just around the corner.