Sundance 2010 Review: BOY
Writer: Taika Cohen
Director: Taika Cohen
Cast: Taika Cohen, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, James Rolleston
I have never seen Taika Cohen's previous feature EAGLE VS. SHARK, but after seeing the director's latest film BOY, I have been hit by a strong wave of desire to see all work done in the past and in the future by this director/screenwriter. Cohen's definitely got that thing referred to as talent.
Cohen's BOY is about an eleven year old, nicknamed Boy (James Rolleston), growing up in New Zealand during the eighties (the same time and place that Cohen was raised). Just to be clear, according to Cohen, Boy is not based on him as a kid, and I would consider him to be a pretty reliable source in this matter. But Cohen's familiarity with the period and kids of the time he is depicting does make the film's setting and characters easy to buy, as well as easy to have fun with. Cohen knows just how the kids of this time act, talked, dressed, and worshipped Michael Jackson.
Boy's love for Michael Jackson is established early on in a opening sequence that displays the untainted imagination of an eleven year old. This introduction, by means of a class presentation that Boy is giving about himself, features Boy's enthusiastic words matched with a hilarious series of images. Boy mentions his dad holds the record for punching out the most people out in a rugby game, and we see his father matter-of-factly punching men onto a pile of unconscious bodies; it's one of the many great sights that appear during this intro. This sequence is what those with hearts would call magical. And it immediately tells us that Cohen's heart and sensibilities are where they need to be.
BOY allows us to spend and an hour and half with an endearing kid that makes us laugh with his comically naive view of the world, and a brazen attitude. We get to see Boy perform funny and believable acts for his age, like telling his pet goat exaggerated stories about his day, and saying things that adults are too aware and boring to say. Cohen nails the naturally funny nature of kids. He also attempts (and succeeds) at giving the film a relevant and well-executed message formed around the return of Boy's father, Alamein (played by Cohen, making it clear that writing and directing are not his only skills).
Alamein was previously in prison, and comes to visit while Boy's grandmother is at a funeral. Alamein has a decent heart, but he is irresponsible and foolish, and just too selfish to be a good father. He's a thirtysomething man that dreams too much, instead of making genuine improvements in his life. Boy and Alamein's relationships shows Boy the dangers of losing yourself in dreams - you do not properly develop, making greatness unachievable.
Taika Cohen's BOY is a thoughtful film about childhood that is too honest to be without moments of pain, illustrating how the wonderful, innocent hearts of kids will ultimately get hurt, and then toughen by the inarguable truths of life.