Tricia Youlden

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ★★★★ PG

At one stage in this latest film from multi-talented Taika Waititi, young Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) comments that “this looks just like Lord of the Rings”, as he and Hec (Sam Neill) lie in a ditch watching armed police officers walking along the path above them. With most of the film shot in the mountainous wilderness of New Zealand, the observation is valid.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople — based on the book, Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump — is, however, a low-budget film about real people and mercifully devoid of computer-generated imagery.

Ricky, described as “a real bad egg” by child welfare officer Paula (Rachel House), is taken in by warm-hearted Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Despite his initial determination to run away from the isolated mountain farm, Ricky settles in. He’s found a home. Even Bella’s gruff husband, Hec, seems to have accepted him as part of their family. When Hec gives him a dog on his birthday, Ricky names it Tupac.

Bella’s unexpected and sudden demise throws a spanner in the works.

Rather than wait for the fearsome Paula to place him in an institution, Ricky goes bush with his uncle in pursuit. Unfortunately, the authorities jump to the conclusion that Hec has kidnapped the boy. This sparks a manhunt for Ricky, Hec and their two dogs and they inadvertently become media celebrities.

As they continue to successfully evade the police and soldiers hunting them, man and boy form an unlikely bond. Their various experiences and the eccentric characters whom they encounter provide fodder for the haikus that Ricky composes to express his feelings, my favourite being the haiku about maggots. En route, Ricky masters what Hec describes as the “knack” of survival and they end up as “equal best bushmen”.

Even though the authorities don’t really see things the same way, a deservedly happy ending is eventually achieved.

Like the gloriously confusing oration about two doors that Waititi gives in his cameo appearance as the inept minister at Bella’s funeral, his screenplay leavens moments of sadness and pathos with offbeat humour. While all the design and editing components of the film are excellent, special mention must go to Lachlan Milne’s cinematography and the music composed by Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Scott and Conrad Wedde.

As Hec would say, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is “majestical!”

Love and Friendship ★★★★ PG

Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry and Jenn Murray in Love and Friendship, based on an early novel by Jane Austen

Whit Stillman’s film adaptation of an early novella by Jane Austen centres around the havoc wreaked by the beautiful, but monumentally vain, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale). Recently widowed, she has been a little too closely comforted by handsome Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain), judging by Lady Lucy Manwaring’s (Jenn Murray) hysterical vituperations as she sends Lady Susan packing from their stately home.

Having been denied refuge at the London home of her American friend Alicia (Chloe Sevigny), whose husband, the pompously upright Mr Johnson (Stephen Fry), has threatened to send Alicia back to Connecticut if she keeps up the friendship, Lady Susan arrives at Churchill, the estate of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards), and his wife Catherine (Emma Greenwell).

Firm in her sense of entitlement, Lady Susan settles in at Churchill and sends her shy daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), to an exclusive boarding school where the fees are “too high to even think of paying”. When Catherine’s brother, Reginald (Xavier Samuel), visits, Lady Susan proceeds to justify her reputation as “the most accomplished flirt in all England”. Soon Reginald is smitten with her artful charms, the caution urged by his parents (Jemma Redgrave and James Fleet) serving only to inflame his youthful ardour.

Meanwhile, Lady Susan is hell-bent on engineering a match between Frederica and the incredibly wealthy but utterly feather-brained Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) but her daughter refuses to cooperate.

In the end, despite her total lack of empathy and compassion, all ends rather well for Lady Susan, Frederica and just about everyone else.

The young Jane Austen’s perceptive eye for the shortcomings of individuals and society in general adds a rich layer of wit and satire to this tale of aristocratic intrigue. Bons mots abound.

Filmed by Richard van Oosterhout in and around Dublin, with costumes by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, Love and Friendship looks utterly stunning.

At just over 90 minutes in length, the film never lags in pace. Not to be missed.

Embrace ★★★ TBA

Taryn Brumfit, left, who made Embrace

Australian photographer Taryn Brumfitt spearheads an international campaign to encourage females to resist the negative messages with which they are constantly bombarded about size and appearance.

Having subjected her own body to a gruelling regime of exercise and diet control after having children, Taryn underwent an epiphany. She realised that, like the majority of females, she had fallen prey to the belief that a woman’s worth is directly proportionate to her appearance and dress size. Her subsequent post of atypical “before” and “after” images of herself on social media went viral. While most women expressed support for her, many males posted derogatory comments, calling her a “fat chick” who they would need to be inebriated to bed.

So passionately does she feel about the issue that she has made a documentary in which she not only highlights the issue, but investigates possible ways to change the mindset of both the media and women of all ages. The resultant film was nominated for the Australian documentary award at the 2016 Sydney Film Festival.

In it, Mia Freedman, recounts how when she was editor of women’s magazine, Cosmopolitan, clothing manufacturers were very resistant to her insistence that models have a healthy body mass index. They only wanted their garments to be shown on models who were no larger than size 8. Even then, the models in the magazines and on the billboards don’t look like that in real life. Their images have been computer-enhanced but young girls don’t realise that. Is it any wonder that they develop eating disorders?

A young woman named Tina provides a stark example of how harmful such disorders are. Still painfully thin as an adult, Tina allows herself to be filmed because she does not want others to become like her. It is, she says, simply too hard to get out of the cycle of eating disorder. Yet, there are websites that actually promote anorexia.

Interviews with celebrities in various countries reinforce how the globalisation of the media has promulgated the desire to attain “physical perfection”. This is no longer a Western phenomenon. Fiji, where a woman’s curves were traditionally appreciated, is seeing an upsurge in eating disorders.

Statistics about plastic surgery are alarming, worldwide. Taryn’s visit to an LA plastic surgeon to get an appraisal of her face and body is an example of just how crazy the situation has become. The vested interests of advertisers should not be allowed to come before the mental health of children. Yet such alarmingly misogynist video games as Grand Theft Auto 5 continue to reinforce young males’ negative attitude to women.

My only criticism of Taryn’s film is that she does not sufficiently emphasise the importance of eating healthy foods and exercising regularly no matter what age, size or shape you are.

Above all, we must remember to praise what little girls do, not what they look like.

Embrace is awaiting official classification closer to its release date of August 4; the film’s makers have recommended an M15+ rating.

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby Girls High School