==BOY  (M)  (89 min)  Directed by Taika Waititi.  Starring Taika Waititi, James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Cohen Holloway.==

Taika Waititi's second feature film (after Eagle vs. Shark and episodes of TV's Flight of the Conchords), is a coming-of-age comedy set in the '80s, East Coast, New Zealand.

Boy (James Rolleston) is obsessed with Michael Jackson - in particular, his dance moves - and his little brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu) possibly possesses 'powers'. The pair are trying to find their potential (and the meaning of the word "potential") while living in the shadow of their larger-than-life dad, Alamein (Waititi).

In Boy's eyes, his dad is a hero: a deep-sea diver, war veteran, rugby captain and close relation of Michael Jackson. But in reality Alamein is doing seven years in jail and is a member of the three-man Crazy horses gang. Now out of the can, Dad returns home and Boy is confronted with the man he thought he remembered.

A huge hit in its native New Zealand, actor/writer/director Taika Waititi's (Eagle Vs Shark)  largely autobiographical Boy is by turns charming, painful, whimsical, and laugh-out-loud funny.Filmed in the house where Waititi was raised on the east coast of New Zealand, Boy is a coming of age portrait set in the haunted paradise that is childhood, within the lush (also haunted) paradise of coastal New Zealand.

It is 1984. Micheal Jackson’s “Thriller” is all the rage, and eleven year old Boy (extraordinarily played by first time actor James Rolleston) is obsessed with all things Jackson, who represents the big dreams and possibilities for a kid like him-- even more so when Boy learns he too has “potential.”

Everyone in his small town is under the spell of the I-wish-this-was-my-life 1980s pop culture. Boy’s friends are named Falcon Crest, Dynasty, and Dallas, and his troubled younger brother, whose mother died during his birth, is named Rocky (played by the impressive child actor Te Aho Eketone Whitu).

With Mum now in the often-visited graveyard nearby and Dad in prison for the last seven years, Boy and Rocky live with a gang of raggedy, abandoned cousins under the care of their grandmother. When their grandmother drives off to attend to a death in the family, she leaves Boy in charge: a Wild Thing in Charge of all wild things .

But then the grownups show up.

In this case, the grownups are Boy’s father Alamein (Waititi), who just broke out of jail, and the two knucklehead inmates who’ve come along for the ride, driving up one night in a broken down car.

It doesn’t take long before Dad proves that he’s King of the Wild Things, the Wildest of all Wild Things. Dad’s more crazily magical than he’d been in all Boy's fantasies of him for the last seven years-- which have been rich and plenty. But when the fantasy finally comes home, it’s more trouble than Boy counted on; more trouble than it’s worth.

With the invasion of the grownups, everything changes. The kids are put to new tasks: starting gangs, gathering marijuana, digging for buried treasures (of the ex-con variety),Sho-Gun sword-fighting, Michael Jackson haircuts, and learning to hide the pain of loss. The real world and the world of make believe are pushed towards a confrontation, and one of them is going to lose.

But as Boy is forced to face his father’s exaggerated (and often painful) immaturity, the boy matures. As Dad falls deeper into the crippling grip of childishness, the brothers see the world with grown-up eyes-- and through this, everything changes-- including the dance sequences of "Thriller" as they move through Boy’s imagination.

Boy is a unique film. It starts out with a bang -- with great jokes and great visuals. Although it loses some momentum about half way in, there’s a strong heart in this film, always present.

There’s a lovely, poignant ending, and the half real/half imagined world that Boy invokes so intensely is one that stays with you.