‘Hunt for Wilderpeople’ finds fun film

by Joe Jarosz on July 22, 2016

in Print Reviews,Reviews

 [Rating: Rock Fist Way Up]

The Hunt for Wilderpeople is one of my favorite movies of the year. I loved this movie. Writer/director Taika Waititi is a master storyteller. The film is hilarious, heartwarming, and beautiful.

The movie follows Ricky (Julian Dennison), an orphan who thinks the rapper Tupac is his best friend. Ricky has bounced around from foster home to foster home because he’s a troublemaker. Nobody can tame him. That is until he meets the loving Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Bella doesn’t expect Ricky to call her mom, instead she asks to be called Auntie. Within the first five minutes of meeting Ricky, Bella makes fun of his weight. But, she does so in a way that conveys love, as if to say, that’s who you are and I don’t care, I’m not going to try and change you, I’m only going to love you.

This is unfamiliar territory for Ricky. At the end of the first night in his new home, he tries to runaway, but only gets 200 meters from the farm. He wakes up in the field with Auntie sitting next to him, telling him before he goes any further, there’s breakfast.

This should be the last stop for Ricky, but not long into the film, Bella dies, leaving Ricky with her husband, the cantankerous Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). In most other movies, Bella’s funeral would be a somber scene. However, Waititi pops up as the minister presiding over the funeral and provides some of the movie’s biggest laughs.

Hec doesn’t want anything to do with Ricky because Bella wanted him, not Hec. He also sees a lot of Bella’s qualities in Ricky, making it hard for him to process his wife’s untimely death. When child services catches wind of Bella’s death, Ricky makes a run for it into the wild New Zealond bush because this home was his last chance. Instead of going back in the system, he tells Hec his next stop is juvie.

Ricky barely lasts a day before Hec finds him struggling to survive. The two soon learn that there’s a national manhunt underway because child services think Hec went mad after Bella’s death and kidnapped the boy. The newly branded outlaws are forced to put aside their differences and work together.

As the two work together to survive, they both eventually begin to open up to the other more. Ricky learns Bella was actually an orphan, as well, and that Hec can’t read, but is a master hunter and survivor. The focus is on Ricky and Hec for most of the movie, but the movie’s supporting players each do their part at making the overall product great. Paula (Rachel House) is the child service agent with a Terminator like attitude in bringing Ricky in and Hec to jail. Whenever she talks to someone about the case, she mutters, “no child left behind.” And while that sounds admirable, I don’t think even she knows why she says it. Then there’s Sam (Rhys Darby), also known as Psycho Sam. He’s one of the few people Hec and Ricky run into while they’re hiding in the woods. He almost seems disappointed when the pair says they’ve never heard of Psycho Sam.

The jungle acts almost as a third character. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne brings the New Zealand wild bush to life, showcasing the wonders the forest has to hold from animals to its waterfalls.

The movie is charming and offbeat with real emotion. You’ll leave the theater with a smile on your face not only because of what you just saw, but because it’s unique and memorable, something that’s becoming increasingly rare in movies today.

Joe Jarosz is a Midwest boy now living in California.

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