A quirky coming-of-age tale 

Whimsy exceeds depth, but agreeably so, in “Boy,” a Kiwi-accented dramedy with universal scenarios and lots of pop-culture love.

Written and directed by Taika Waititi, of “Eagle vs. Shark” semi-fame, the film is only surface deep, and those intolerant of quirkiness  won’t feel the charm as its young protagonist fancifully processes his deadbeat father’s failings.

Still, it’s an enjoyable rendering of the coming-of-age story.

As with “Eagle,” Waititi presents a relationship featuring a frustratingly self-centered individual and a wholly deserving one, but, instead of nerds and romance, he delivers father-son situations and characters who exude cool, or think they do.

The setting is a rural Maori community on the east coast of New Zealand, and the year is 1984. “E.T.” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” are the talk of the world.

Eleven-year-old “Boy” (James Rolleston) lives with his grandmother, his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone Whitu) and some cousins whose names include Dynasty and Falcon Crest. The brothers’ mother died while giving birth to Rocky, and Rocky blames himself for the tragedy.

Boy deals with hardship by daydreaming about Michael Jackson and mastering, as only a preteen dreamer can, Jackson’s moonwalk.

Boy also idolizes his absent father, Alamein (played by the multitasking Waititi), whom he envisions, in fantasy and musical sequences, as an adventure hero and a stand-in for Jackson in the pop star’s videos.

In truth, Alamein is a ne’er-do-well who has served time for robbery, and when he shows up with two cohorts, he’s more interested in digging up some buried loot than in parenting duties.

Sporting biker garb, spouting tall tales and asking to be called “Shogun,” Alamein initially impresses Boy. But Boy soon becomes disillusioned.

Basically, this is a standard coming-of-ager complete with a bright adolescent, a dysfunctional elder, grief, a school bully, a classmate crush and a quirky pet (a goat Boy confides in).

The story is thin, and Waititi’s overly feel-good tone undermines the dramatic potential of its more serious material. As an actor, Waititi, while charismatic, doesn’t give Alamein enough dimension to justify his amount of screen time.

Yet at the same time, what transpires is vibrant, entertaining and rich in personality. Waititi, while a bit excessive, deftly observes childhood mentalities and survival mechanisms.

His setting (Waititi shot the film in a house where he lived) feels authentic. His focus on universal domestic issues enhances the appeal. It all totals an amusingly whimsical and emotionally credible look at growing up, and a nice little movie.

Among the cast, newcomer Rolleston merits special mention. Natural, likable and earnest, he makes viewers feel invested in Boy’s well-being.

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Anita Katz

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