Writer/director Taika Waititi pulls off a rare feat with his film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” – recreating an adolescent mindset without simultaneously infantilizing the audience. (No wonder Marvel wants him in their filmmaking stables.)
The movie adequately reflects the kind of “me against the world” headspace of troubled foster child Ricky (the riotous Julian Dennison) as he makes a last ditch stop with a rural-dwelling husband and wife before potentially ending up in juvy. Surprisingly, he ends up quite taken with the doting “aunt” Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and stoic “uncle” Hec (Sam Neill), so much so that he flees into the wilderness when extenuating circumstances lead child services to come back and collect him. Out here, “The Kings of Summer”-style, Ricky’s journey reconstitutes those who want to capture him as cartoonish villains and Hec, his reluctant forest companion, as a veritable folk hero.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” gets more mileage out of its central conceit than the director’s last film, “What We Do in the Shadows,” because Waititi leans into the absurdity rather than grounding it in reality. The larger-than-life humor of Ricky especially, but also the scenarios he imagines, really calls for the embrace of the ridiculous he provides. The film often glides by on charm over inventiveness or ingenuity, which is often just fine so long as Ricky’s potty mouth is running full speed. B /