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War games: Te Aho Eketone-Whitu (Rocky), James Rolleston (Boy) and Taika Waititi (Alamein) in Boy. War games: Te Aho Eketone-Whitu (Rocky), James Rolleston (Boy) and Taika Waititi (Alamein) in Boy.

WHO could have predicted that an untrained pre-pubescent actor would propel a small-budget film into the highest grossing New Zealand flick of all time?

Boy, the darling of the 2010 Sundance and Sydney film festivals, has wowed critics and put bums on seats in cinemas across the land of the long white cloud, and even spawned a line of merchandise t-shirts branded with slogans from the film.

So why all the buzz? This is an authentic film through and through.

Staying true to its writer/director Taika Waititi's (Oscar-nominated short Two Cars, One Night; Eagle versus Shark) roots growing up in a seaside Maori community on New Zealand's east coast, the characters are realistically drawn and the script original.

And unashamedly offbeat - not in the way of try-hard, indie cinema chic, but rather a bona fide wackiness that celebrates being a childhood product of the passé 80s…in NZ's forgotten sleepy Bay of Plenty.

It's 1984 where Boy (James Rolleston, who only had one failed audition to his acting credit) lives with his Nan and brood of siblings and cousins in an old farm shack.

It's the end of school, and Boy spends his summer holidays telling tall-tales about his dad Alamein (Waititi) - who is doing time behind bars for a robbery at the local gas station - being a war hero and deep sea diver.

He also imagines him to possess all the slick grooves and moves of 1984's coolest man on Earth, Michael Jackson.

When gang leader Alamein (who has fantasies of his own about being a samurai warrior and prefers the nickname Shogun) is released from jail, Boy follows him wherever he goes and hopes to be just like him - until he discovers he is actually nothing like what his illusory mind had imagined him to be.

Eleven-year-old newcomer Rolleston proves a revelation, with a magnetic screen presence and charm that only a natural-born performer can deliver.

The astonishing casting continues with the pint-sized Te Aho Eketone-Whitu (Boy's younger brother Rocky, an introvert who is convinced he has magic powers), would have to be the most adorable thing you are ever likely to see on screen from either side of the Tasman.

Hats off to Waititi, who - with some whimsical intermittent animation - has crafted a magical little film that salutes innocent childish fantasy with both hilarity and heart.


Directed by: Taika Waititi
Starring: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi
Rating: Four-and-a-half stars
Screening: from August 26
Reviewed by: Emilia Vranjes

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