We're introduced to Boy when the 11-year-old gives a recitation on the last day of school. Boy (James Rolleston), who lives in a hardscrabble Maori village on New Zealand's eastern coast, describes his extended family — essentially a passel of parentless kids living with grandma; his various classmates (including siblings named for American prime-time soap operas); and most extravagantly, his missing father, Alamein, who is reputedly off doing various heroic acts.
Except he's not. The shiftless Alamein returns home from jail, and devotes a couple of days to "bonding" with Boy and his younger brother, the emotionally fragile Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu). Among dad's empty promises: taking Boy to see his hero, Michael Jackson. (The film is set in 1984.)
This is the second feature for director Taika Waititi, after 2007's Eagle vs. Shark, and his work with fellow Kiwis on HBO's Flight of the Conchords. Boy is two-thirds bittersweet coming-of-age story, leavened with moments of wry humor or whimsy. It's a familiar story — dad turns out to be the boy — but the storyline is very effectively rendered by the two young actors.
Waititi portrays Alamein — the film is shot at his boyhood home — and too often he seems to be acting in another film, something more madcap and mocking. But the film's positives outweigh the negatives, and the sweetness trumps the sadness. Starts Fri., May 4. Harris