Hunt For The Wilderpeople Film Review: The Kiwi Comedy Hits Its Target

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Super dry, blunt, and at times, rambling, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE delivers comedy that may not appeal to American audiences. But fans of director Taika Waititi will bask in all the humor that is reminiscent of his films like Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Flight of the Conchords. Whether or not you connect with the comedy, the real meat of the film comes from the story about two very different outsiders bonding while fighting for something they believe in — a moral that is relevant now more than ever.

Wilderpeople is a New Zealand-set film that centers on a young man named Ricky (Julian Dennison), a city kid who has been jumping from foster home to foster home and hasn’t found a place to settle because of his rebellious delinquent behavior. Dressed in the finest hip hop attire, child protective services brings him to the a very rural foster home with the eager overly maternal Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her crotchety outdoorsman husband Hec (Sam Neill). At first reluctant and aloof, Ricky gets used to his new home and develops a close relationship with Bella. With Hec, not so much. After an unfortunate accident, child protective services threatens to move him to another home which prompts Ricky to escape into the bush (that’s Kiwi for forest) to avoid being taken away from his new home. Having no outdoor experience at all, Hec follows him into the bush. The odd couple end up becoming fugitives from the law and embarking on a long adventure that help them overcome their differences to help them survive as a family.

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Waititi adapted the script from the book Wild Pork and Watercress and uses his distinct vision for telling a morally centered story. He not only pulls from his own culture to help add lively details, but he is very skilled with his storytelling. He balances bone dry one-liners, comedic action, and understated performances for an even-handed film about the dysfunctional and heartfelt dynamics of family.

Still, Wilderpeople is a very subdued film. So subdued that its stone-faced humor and tamed energy can be considered boring. Needless to say, this isn’t a comedic romp that will make you achieve pee-in-your-pants levels of laughter — but that’s not to say that there aren’t laughs to be had. Frequent Waititi collaborator Rhys Darby brings the right amount of bizarre lunacy in the limited amount of screen time as the camouflaged backwoods denizen Psycho Sam while Rachel House gives a standout performance as the overly resilient child services worker. But its the two stars that carry the film and make it enjoyably worthwhile. Avoiding “chubby kid doing silly things” territory, Dennison holds his own — and very well I might add — opposite Hollywood veteran Neill, who wins the MVP as the emotionally hardened Hec who gradually becomes a softie without compromising his gruffness.

The film is rich with comedic quirks, but is thoughtful, grounded, and, most of all, showcases Waititi as one of today’s most talented filmmakers. It won’t make you die laughing, but it will definitely put a smile on your face.

Score:  3 out of 5

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watches too much , enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, , and comedy . He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.

Twitter: @dinoray

Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer
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