New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi has been a cult favorite with movies like Eagle vs. Shark and vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. Here, adapting the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, he manages to make a film with universal appeal while sacrificing none of the askew humor, heartfelt emotion or visual whimsy of his previous work. I loved this film! It is destined to be one my favorites for the year.
I knew nothing of the plot when I saw the film, so feel free to stop reading here. In barest outline, it concerns a “bad egg” foster child (Julian Dennison) who is sent to a remote farm to live with a smothering woman (Rima Te Wiata) and her angry, nearly-mute husband (Sam Neill). The farm is near the New Zealand “bush” — wild jungle where animals real, fantastical and human live. Adventures ensue, sometimes as the camera rotates 360 degrees in montages without cuts or dissolves.
The soundtrack here, like that for Eagle vs. Shark, is also an instant classic. There is a mixture of Kiwi choral, electronica and classics (Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”) that somehow blend perfectly. Throw in a dead dog, and it might seem that Waititi is attempting to out-Wes Anderson Wes Anderson.
If you like Anderson’s films, or Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, for that matter, you should have a blast with Wilderpeople. It’s a movie brimming with energy, grief, playfulness, warmth, action and maybe even hidden messages about race relations. The movie, like Jesus, is tricky like that.