by Cass Cannon
Were there white fences? Two parents? A family dog? Were those the things that made you happy? Or was is it the time your dad stuck wine corks up his nose carried on at dinner...or the time you weighed your feet down so you could walk across the bottom of the pool with a bucket on your head...how about when you realized the person who kept not flushing the toilet was actually your cat who taught herself how to use the toilet?
Whatever the constellation of good, bad, and weird, childhood is childhood. And normally, through the eyes of an adult director, the smaller details get lost through the loose grip of recontextualization. All too often, children end up playing mini adults, asked to process through past traumas and behave much more maturely than what is natural; think old, wise baby Jesuses from classical paintings instead of real kids.
Seldom does a movie get it right, and when they do, the emotional resonance is profound—among the rankings of authentic childhood experience in film, I often reach for We Are the Best!, Let the Right One In, and, now, Boy.
Boy (played by James Rolleston) introduces us to his extravagant little life in a school presentation. We learn about his Nanny, his little brother, and his cousins—with whom he lives—and his absentee dad, a hero type suspended firmly in his own arrested development. Boy has a dreamer’s approach to storytelling—as adults we can see through the fibs and tall tales down to the less than happy truths of Boy’s circumstances. Still, we also see the moments where Boy shows his natural empathy; his ability to care for all of his cousins while his grandmother is away, and his attention to maintaining a peaceful and happy home.
James Rolleston, although quite young in this role, manages to capture a version of Taika Waititi that shows the director’s breadth of talent, as well as obviously showing off this kid’s acting chops. He’s the perfect balance of awkward and brooding, confused and faking understanding, and just everything that gives us enough second hand embarrassment and warm hearted feelings to remind us of our own childhoods; good, bad, and everything else.
IT, to Boyhood, hell, even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is undeniably related. And I guess, what I’m trying to get at here, is that I know what it feels like to remember the messiness of my own childhood—we all do—but what Boy reminds us is the silliness that was also tangled in everything. The refreshing take made me cry, not for the feeling of “wow this is a sad tragedy,” but because of how unexpected every plot twist is in the emotional response they’re able to illicit. I’ll never stop singing Taika Waititi’s praises as someone who can make me laugh and turn a story into something totally other, but now the dude’s got me for one of the more sentimental takes on growing up I’ve seen in awhile.