In terms of striking the right balance, heartfelt, coming-of-age films can be something of a tricky proposition for many writers and directors – especially when he or she is drawing from the well of their own personal experience. Too much sweetness and the director runs the risk of turning the story into a cloying portrayal of youth that inevitably winds up feeling artificial and more than a little insincere. On the other hand, too little of the sweet stuff and the director in question could end up with something out of the Frank McCourt School of Depressing Childhood Memories.
Occasionally, these films can swing passionately in either direction, and such swinging can come off entirely as a way to attract the favor of the art house crowd, or as a manufactured way to garner some attention, come awards season. The trick, then, is for the director to mix up a concoction of humor, nostalgia, and melancholy capable of engaging the viewer without being obnoxiously saccharine or brutally earnest. In that regard, Taika Waititi's 2010 film 'Boy' has managed to blend together the right amount of both elements, delivering a product that is as pleasant in its storytelling, as it is unique in the when and where of the tale.
The movie takes us back to 1984, a time when it was still common behavior for twenty-to-thirtysomething men to adorn their faces with un-ironic mustaches, and for children of all ages to wholeheartedly adore Michael Jackson. More specifically, 'Boy' depicts life through the eyes of Boy (James Rolleston), an eleven-year-old growing up in Waihu Bay, New Zealand who is left in charge of his younger sibling Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu) and various cousins after their Nana is called out of town for a funeral. Boy's mother is deceased and everything he's known about his father consists of legends he's made up to impress his classmates, or from glints of information he's gotten from his Nana or Aunty Gracie. That is, until his father, Alamein (Taika Waititi), rolls up unannounced one day to ingratiate himself with his children, while searching for some stolen cash he buried shortly before being incarcerated, and therefore missing out on Boy and Rocky's earliest years.
Although the story is told through the eyes of Rolleston's character, the intense focus and importance he places on his father creates and interesting dynamic in which an adult is observed through the eyes of a child. Interestingly, Waititi embodies Alamein with a man-child sensibility and the inelegance of an adult suddenly thrust into the world of fatherhood – one in which he is ill-equipped to navigate, thanks to his stunted maturity, displacement from society and the grief over the loss of his wife he's clearly left unaddressed since it happened. Boy and Alamein are initially drawn to one another through the appeal of firsts: Alamein gets to act like a father for the first time and enjoy the unrelenting adulation that role is granted by one's children, while Boy is given direct and unfiltered access to the man who had previously only existed in the fictionalized and highly adventurous narratives drawn up in his imagination.
The result, then, is a dual coming-of-age film that is as much Alamein's journey into adulthood, responsibility and acceptance of loss as it his eldest son's. Waititi has constructed a often-whimsical film that dabbles in concepts of identity and how the reflexive need to emulate a hero figure – which could be anything from an estranged father to the King of Pop – is often times the first steps a young person takes in crafting a unique identity of his own. In this case, Boy begins by walking a similar path as his father, but soon learns that although he may be Alamein's boy, any true similarities between them are few. These realizations come slowly, but poignantly; they are learned through trial and error and hint at a child who will grow into a young man with an empathy and understanding well beyond his years.
Waititi first gained attention from his feature directorial debut 'Eagle vs. Shark,' but he's made a name for himself by directing episodes of the quirky coming-of-age television series 'The Inbetweeners' as well as the equally idiosyncratic 'Flight of the Concords.' Much of what transpires in 'Boy' is in the same vein, as Waititi peppers his film with animations in the style of a child's drawings, stylish reenactments of fictional events and even a Michael Jackson dance tribute with a Maori flair. The end result is a stylish, whimsical comedy that teeters on the precipice of twee contrivance, but winds up using a careful blend of sentimentality and silliness to create a sweet, touching picture instead.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stas
'Boy' comes from Kino Lorber as a single 50GB Blu-ray in the standard keepcase. There are few special features here, but the disc makes good use of what it has. Additionally, there is a brief blurb about the Kino Lorber and their history for those who are unfamiliar with the company.
'Boy' was initially released in 2010, and was likely done on a miniscule budget. Still, given the limitations the production likely faced, this Blu-ray comes through with a nice looking, but sometimes-inconsistent image that manages to highlight the specific locations of the film in significant detail.
This is a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer that for the most part looks remarkable and plays up Waititi's sensibilities quite well, but occasionally faces issues regarding contrast that keep the disc from truly shining. Thankfully, these issues are not particularly prominent and only tend to show up in during the first half of the film. For the most part, contrast levels are too low; the image looks a little hazy and colors tend to be somewhat washed out. But, like I said, these are primarily in the first half of the film, and tend to be a distraction only because other scenes have contrast levels that are good to great. For whatever reason, the issue seems to straighten itself out and the image becomes consistent and clear toward the end of the film.
For the most part, then, 'Boy' is presented with a nice image that plays up the environment with plenty of vivid colors and depth. Fine detail and texture are present in close-ups and every so often in wider shots, but overall, extraordinary detail tends to wane a bit in these instances. There is a small amount of filmic grain that is present throughout the film that tends to play up the warmth of the images, rather than distract or distort any of the film's detail.
Although it has a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, the sound on 'Boy' sounds a bit weak and anemic at times. This could be due to the film's heavy reliance on child actors and their ability to resonate, so it's understandable from that perspective, but considering the accents in the film are quite heavy, it can be a little difficult to discern what's being said for those not acclimated to them. All in all, a more robust sounding track might have helped with issues of nearly indiscernible dialogue.
That being said, and although this is primarily a dialogue driven film, there are some nice instances where the sound comes through crystal clear, and even spreads out across the various channels to create a more dynamic listening experience. Most of this is centered on the music in the film, as sound effects don’t play a huge part here and when they do, they are presented primarily through the front or center channel speaker. The music, however, seems to use the full range of the DTS and sound deep and rich every time it pops up.
Truth be told, there's not much going on here beyond the character's dialogue, and although the voices tend to come through cleanly, the lack of energy and power in the track is somewhat off-putting. Thankfully, the mix is balanced well, so should you need to crank the volume to hear the dialogue, you won't risk blowing out your speakers or neighbors when the music kicks in.
Waititi's films get compared a lot to Wes Anderson's movies or the flash in the pan that was 'Napoleon Dynamite.' While some of the sensibilities are the same, Waititi does have his own unique voice that's likely due in no small part to his heritage and where he grew up. 'Boy' probably isn't autobiographical, but it does illustrate the director's understanding of where he comes from and how it shaped his view of the larger world, so, in that sense, the film may be more personal than it first appears. Chances are, this won't appeal to everyone, but there is plenty for differing tastes to enjoy. Kino Lorber has put together a nice disc with limited, but superb supplements that make this one easy to recommend.