Finally, a year has passed and the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival is officially kicking off and, thankfully, it is starting on a terrific note. Out of the gate, the first film I screened was the popular Sundance title Hunt for the Wilderpeople from Kiwi writer/director Taika Waititi, the man behind greats such as Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, and, I’ll be honest, it is currently one of my favorite movies of 2016 thus far.
The premise for the story is simple: a young, mischievous boy and his foster uncle head out to the New Zealand bush when a national manhunt is ordered to find them. It initially starts with the boy running away to protect himself from being taken back into the foster system by Child Services. Shortly after, his depressed and angry Uncle tracks him down only to be portrayed poorly by the media after a series of unfortunate incidents.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is awesome! Not only is it a pretty family friendly film, but it’s the type of adventure comedy that’s both heartwarming and hilarious. Julian Dennison plays the overweight rebellious boy Ricky Baker and Sam Neill plays Uncle Hec. While at first I was worried about Dennison’s performance based on his role in Paper Planes, as soon as he actually started interacting with his new foster family, I realized how great of a fit he was for the film. In time, we get to see him and Neill interacting and the chemistry between the two is more than ideal. Early on the film plays out a bit like Dennis the Menace, a crazy kid trying to fit in with a grumpy old man and a happy woman but then it evolves into this runaway buddy comedy.
Throughout the film we learn new bits about the characters that help them grow as individuals and as a team. This is crucial for the film to move forward properly and it does so seamlessly. There are always hiccups in whatever plan they have or whatever they’re trying to accomplish because, well, that’s what happens when a senior and a child are on the run from the law in the wilderness.
One of the best, and most ridiculous part of the film is the cause of the manhunt. Paula (Rachel House), the woman from Child Services that’s in charge of Ricky’s case, has this mantra of “no child left behind.” She also doesn’t trust Ricky to live with Hec even though he enjoys being there and, secretly, Hec might as well. Ricky runs away to avoid her capture but because of her determination to get Ricky into “safe” keeping, which could translate into juvenile hall, an over the top months long search commences. Rachel House does a hilarious job of acting as a wannabe detective and utilizing her position to wield unlikely power and receive a ridiculous amount of publicity.
I don’t want to give away specifics about the film because part of the joy of experiencing this film blind is that you get to be wowed in ways you didn’t expect. I’ve loved Waititi’s work for quite some time and yet I’m always pleasantly surprised by how good his films end up being. He manages to take stories that should be mediocre or risky and ends up putting a great creative spin on them, allowing us, the audience, to see something fresh and highly entertaining. He did a great job adapting this from Barry Crump’s novel.
Overall, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of this year’s must-see films not only at the Tribeca Film Festival, but also when The Orchard releases it later this year. It’s a movie that will garner plenty of laughs, it’ll warm hearts, and bring blissful joy to all those that screen it. Hopefully this film will introduce more people to Waititi’s glorious filmography and gets people excited at the fact that he’s directing Thor: Ragnarok.