Overview: The story of a national manhunt when a troublemaking teen and a surly bushman go missing in the New Zealand bush. Madman entertainment; 2016; 101 minutes
Wright and Anderson: Taika Waititi’s last movie was one of the funniest comedies of 2015, What We Do in the Shadows. And he follows it up with what is one of the funniest comedies of 2016. Hunt of the Wilderpeople is a unique creature, but if I had to find a point of similarity in other familiar artists’ work, I would say it’s like Edgar Wright meets Wes Anderson. The Wright stuff comes from the adeptness with physical comedy and mining every possible joke from a look, a set, a close up, a pan, a musical choice, or a prop. The Wes Anderson element comes into play mostly through Waititi’s absurdly witty script and his use of deadpan line delivery.
Deadpan: Aussie and Kiwi comedy has a way with deadpan that other countries dream about. Films and shows like The Castle, Chopper, What We Do in the Shadows, The Flight of the Conchords, and this movie all mine that rich seam of comedy that can be found in an absurd statement made in a matter of fact way. The line deliveries in Hunt for the Wilderpeople are works of art with Rachel House’s character, Paula from child services. Perhaps Paula’s stand out moment comes as she engages in an argument across a creek with Ricky Baker (the troublemaker) about who is more like the terminator and who is more like Sarah Connor (and Connor from the first movie, before she could do chin ups).
The other frequently observed distinction about movies from this particular region is their ability to give us characters who are a little dim or uncultured and to get comedy out of them without making them the butt of the joke. Consider Napoleon Dynamite, an American movie that goes for the same angle. Even though that movie is very funny, I sometimes feel as though the main joke is a cruel one rather than something more light-hearted. Taika Waititi manages to present these types of characters in a way that makes them funny but also as though, on some level, they’re in on the joke.
Heart: Much like Wright and Anderson, Waititi manages to find the heart in his work too. There are big emotions and some big ideas in this movie but they never get in the way of the comedy or the flow of the story. Ricky Baker’s story is funny on the surface but actually grimly tragic beneath, and Waititi manages to get that across without it seeming preachy or cheesy. By the end of the movie you’ll have laughed your arse off, for sure, but also there are some teary moments and some genuine sweetness among the madness.
Overall: Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a triumph. Every character is gold, every actor nails their part (especially the two leads), and every moment is an enjoyable one. If his last two films are any indication, and if Waititi is given freedom to go wild with his next movie, a little indie about a Norse god superhero, then we’ll be looking at something truly special yet again.