Although his recent cosmic forays into the Marvel Cinematic Universe might suggest otherwise, New Zealand native Taika Waititi’s career was crafted on low-key, culturally specific comedy. Thanks to Fox Searchlight—which has recently acquired several new and classic shorts and is releasing them on YouTube under the moniker #Searchlightshorts, Waititi’s 2004 Oscar-nominated film, Two Cars One Night, has finally been uploaded in non-bootleg form to the internet. Rejoice!
Two Cars serves as a condensed primer on Waititi’s work, exhibiting both his knack for universal humanity conveyed through cultural specificity. And, like several Waitii feature projects to follow (Boy, The Hunt for Wilderpeople), he shows lots of heart, but never dips into the cloying or saccharin.
He has terrific knack for showcasing kids acting like kids, which in the world of Waititi films, usually presents itself as kids pretending to act more mature than they actually are. The result is undeniably charming and hilarious, playing with the inherent naiveté of the child protagonists (it helps that I’m a sucker for kids with New Zealand accents). Moreover, it perfectly encapsulates the uniquely kid feeling of wanting to feel more grown up and cooler than you actually are. Waititi conveys this without turning his protagonists into precocious Disney Channel “Young Sheldon” monstrosities. His kids feel “real,” not like the product of some middle-aged writer’s room.
Two Cars is an undeniably understated film—it’s largely plotless, more about character and tone than narrative development. But, it’s just so effortlessly compelling and sweet to spend time with these youngsters, watching as the relationship between the boy (appropriately named Romeo) and girl, Polly, starts antagonistic and, then, develops into a burgeoning romance.
Waititi also manages to relate the universal experience of being bored as a kid. Yes, obviously, adults can get bored. But, there’s just nothing quite like being bored as a kid—where time feels stuck and the enormity of a lifespan seems infinite. And, while the film is undoubtedly simple in its construction, there’s an interesting subtext to what’s happening on screen that is never directly addressed.
All three kids wait for their respective adults (whom we never see the faces of) at a carpark outside a pub. Perhaps Waititi is making a larger statement about the nature of abandonment and parental neglect….or, maybe he’s not. But, the idea is there, something to ponder as the “insignificant” interaction between Romeo and Polly takes place on the pavement. We watch as they playact as the adults they wish they were, without realizing the responsibility that comes with it.
Things have changed quite a bit for Waititi since the film’s creation in 2004. In addition to Thor: Ragnarok, he is directing several episodes of Disney’s upcoming The Mandalorian streaming series. He has also been announced to helm the Time Bandits series for Apple’s new streaming service, which, tonally, feels like a perfect match for his comedic sensibilities.