Up all night with Taika Waititi in London

New Zealander Maha Albadrawi went to an all-night Taika movie marathon in London, and managed to stay awake for nearly all of it.

It’s an unusually warm Saturday night and I’m standing outside the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s West End. I’ve been living in London for five months and have genuinely loved it, but I have had my faith in humanity tested a few times, and I need to be around something familiar and funny.

Which is why I’m spending my Saturday night at an all-night movie marathon of Taika Waititi films.

A lot of people are here tonight because they love Taika’s work, but there’s one or two films they haven’t seen and they’ve decided to make a night of it.

London is a brilliant place to live if you’re a movie lover. The Prince Charles is one of its many independent cinemas, a two-screen gem which opened in the 1960s as a live theatre, before becoming a porn cinema for about two decades. There’s a toilet cubicle dedicated to director Kevin Smith and, for some reason, the floor of the auditorium is angled up towards the screen rather than down.

The 500-seat auditorium is about two thirds full, and people arrive prepared with food, drinks, blankets and pillows. A video of cult filmmaker John Waters yelling at us to put our phones away plays, and I’m reminded that I recently had to tell more than one fully grown adult to do the same. I silently mourn the death of cinema etiquette as the lights go down.

9.30 PM – Eagle Vs Shark (2007)

I was dreading having to sit through this movie again. I watched it in 2007 at one of those outdoor summer screenings in Auckland, where no one can possibly get comfortable because Auckland is a clusterfuck of hills, and it’s too bright to see the screen because the sun stays out till like 11pm.

Sitting in a cosy London theatre in 2019, I was surprised by how much I loved it. It’s Taika’s first feature, and his knack for mastering the balance of tragedy with absurdist humour is already here. The film’s quirkiness never becomes insufferable because the comedy is grounded in character. It’s very Napoleon Dynamite, but then almost every indie movie released in the mid-2000’s was either that, or “very Juno”.

“Taika’s humour goes over a lot of people’s heads,” says Nikki, from London. “But I think it’s quite similar to British humour where it’s dry and sarcastic.”

Her friend Billie adds, “It’s that dry humour where it’s not necessarily funny, but it is!”

11:30 PM – Boy (2010)

This movie has me in pieces every single time. From the opening with ‘Poi E’ to the Thriller Haka, Boy is a ode to childhood and the inevitable loss of innocence. It reminds me of growing up in a then-poorer (now super gentrified) part of Auckland, where older kids were responsible for their younger siblings, and of going to houses where a grandparent was often the only consistent adult presence. Few films makes me laugh so hard and break my heart the way Boy does.

“I don’t know how to describe it without getting too deep,” says Billie. “You’re watching it through the total innocence of a child, but with the knowledge of a grown-up which gives it a weird element.”

Watching Boy’s innocence shatter as he realises his dad isn’t what he imagined is heartbreaking because it feels so familiar: who amongst us hasn’t experienced disappointment and disillusionment as we’ve grown up?

Taika doesn’t let tragic elements hang over the audience for too long though. Any time I’m about to be reduced to a puddle on the floor something happens that has the audience in stitches.

Londoner Antony struggled the first time his Kiwi wife showed him Boy. “I didn’t really get the references!” For example, he didn’t understand what a “honky” was. “But it was a lot more enjoyable this time around, I got a lot more of the comedy.”

Tania, a Kiwi who’s been in London for nine years, says “it’s interesting listening to the comments of the people who didn’t grow up in New Zealand around us, they didn’t understand a lot of it.”

Tania’s British husband Greg remembers being surprised at learning about New Zealand’s rates of child neglect. “You take it as a film, you think ‘oh, it’s not really [like that] there’. But then you talk to (Tania and her NZ friends) and they say actually, in some parts of New Zealand this is the case, and when you’re a tourist you don’t see … kids running around with (no parents), and that’s quite scary.”

Watching this movie tonight has also made me miss fresh air and the smell of the sea. I know this sounds corny, but if you’re in Aotearoa and you’re near the ocean, go out right now and take a deep breath because believe me, it’s special. Anyone who’s ever seen the sad pile of pebbles that the English call a “beach” can confirm this.

1.15 AM – What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

New Zealanders have a knack for producing decent mockumentaries, and this is easily one of our best. Featuring an insanely talented cast of Taika’s frequent collaborators, the story is basically a flat comedy, but with vampires. The vampires are all archetypes, and anyone who’s shared a flat in their early 20s will recognise a version of each flatmate.

“Everything he writes is based on things you would actually see in life,” says Brendan. “You can see his personal experience,” adds his friend Fin. “Especially in the earlier stuff we’ve seen tonight.”

Fin has never been to New Zealand, but he has Kiwi friends and wants to go, and he thinks that Taika evokes the place very well.

Brendan adds, “There’s a very straightforward nature to everything. I prefer (Kiwi humour) a lot more to the stuff you get from America.”

The author’s 3AM death stare

3.00 AM – Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)

As the night progresses I am thankful for the upwards slope of the theatre – it turns out it’s brilliant for allowing a sleepy punter to tilt their head back and still see the screen clearly.

There’s a palpable sense of excitement as the lights go down for Hunt For The Wilderpeople. I’d overheard a lot of people saying it was their favourite, and one woman saying it’s the one she couldn’t wait to see. When the movie did play, people didn’t just laugh at the funny parts – they actually shrieked.

Wilderpeople is another Taika movie I didn’t initially like (I know, I was in the minority there). When I first watched this in 2016, it was a couple of days after wrapping production on my first funded webseries as a producer. It was an amazing experience which included two straight weeks of night shoots, and at the end of it I was completely, utterly, and totally fried. Shortly before that I had also just planned my wedding, which is actually really similar to planning a production. Anyway, I was beyond exhausted and I remember sitting in the theatre and stressing out about whether the film was meant to be funny or disturbing. I just wasn’t really there.

Three years later, I am fully on board with the movie. It’s a gorgeously shot, charming comedy about two outsiders who form a family unit when they realise they’ve got no one else. I totally get the near-universal praise for this movie now.

4.30AM – Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

It’s the last leg of the marathon and I am really struggling. Thor is the only Taika film I haven’t yet seen.

“You’re in for a treat!” says Ruth, the lovely British woman sitting in front of me. “It’s a Taika Waititi film through and through.”

She’s there with her husband Mark and friend Joe, and we’re all struggling to speak at this point of the evening/morning.

I tried so hard to stay awake for this. I appreciate what it means for Taika to have made this film so distinctly his own. But at this point I’m doing that thing where every time you blink you fall asleep.

The bits I did manage to wake up to were really funny, especially Taika’s “K Road bouncer”-inspired performance as Korg, a walking pile of rocks. Given my revisionist reviews of Eagle Vs Shark and Hunt For The Wilderpeople, I shall refrain from reviewing movies I’ve watched when I’m really, really tired.

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During one lucid moment I raise my head to notice that I’m not the only person who’s fallen asleep, and for the first time I see more heads tilted backwards and sideways than upright.

At about 6.30AM, the marathon ends. Almost everyone who started the marathon remained for the whole thing, which is incredible. At this point I’ve been awake for 22 hours. Everyone gathers outside for a “survivors’ photo”, and we say our goodbyes.

Another wonderful thing about London: you can still get home on public transport at 7AM on a Sunday morning.

The survivors. Photo: Facebook.com/PrinceCharlesCinema


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