Kevin Jones’s review published on Letterboxd:
After being quite mixed on Taika Waititi's previous film, What We Do in the Shadows, I was conflicted heading into Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The humor in his last film was solid, but spotty. Here, however, it is on point from beginning to end. Hunt for the Wilderpeople had me in stitches multiple times and, even better, had a terrific message about adoption, acceptance, and unconventional families. Starring Julian Dennison as the misunderstood and unwanted 13-year old Ricky Baker, the film pairs him with Sam Neill as Uncle Hec. Initially not wanting Ricky in his home, the bond forged between these two is undeniable. Plus, their chemistry together and comedic timing is perfect.
The film's biggest accomplishment is its characters. The script from Waititi breathes incredible amounts of life into these two oddballs who have both been resoundingly rejected by society, yet have so much to offer. The writing does a great job developing them as people that are thoroughly relatable, which makes the tale all the more heartbreaking. In particular, scenes in which Ricky is shown running away and being unhappy at his new foster home, are incredibly raw. Waititi does a good job to give them a light feeling, but the implication is truly heartwrenching. Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) certainly helps these scenes, as her love for Ricky is clear, even if she just became his foster mother. Her joy over finally having a child she had wanted for so long is infectious and breathes life into the film even when her role dissipates.
Though two oddballs being thrown together is a typical trope, Hunt for the Wilderpeople executes it so well, it never feels cliche. Rather, it feels deeply real and the thematic musings regarding acceptance, adoption, and our notion of family, is terrific, especially when dealing with why this couple adopted Ricky. Unable to have their own children, they sought a foster child to fill this void. Though not everyone goes through this, the emotional impact of this reveal and the universal understanding showcase that these characters are real people. Authenticity in film matters and when these characters shown unhappiness or elation, it rubs off on the audience and their emotion is our own.
Comedically, the film is quite strong. Though there are quite a few fat jokes, the film never leans on them too much and bolsters its comedic offerings with a varied and smart take on the youth, people without a proper "family", and people who live disconnected from society. Though all serious topics, they are broached comedically and the jokes most certainly work. Waititi has such a quirky sense of humor, which this film displays, but unlike his previous feature, most if not all jokes land as intended.
A critical darling of the summer, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a touching, funny, and emotional journey of escape, acceptance, and family. It is not hard to see why this one attracted such acclaim, given its incredible characters and light-and-fun approach to its deeply serious topics. On a side note, I almost saw this in theaters. Given the impeccable cinematography in which Waititi lifts a page out of Peter Jackson's book and inserts shots of New Zealand porn, this one would have been incredible on the big screen. Tragically, the local cinema's projector was not working and it was the last weekend for the film in theaters. Anyways, at least I finally saw it! Also, WHY DOES EVERY FILM WITH A DOG HAVE TO KILL THE DOG? WHY, MOVIES? WHY?