Opens at Metro, Fri., June 2. Rated R. 97 minutes.
How anything this harrowing can also be this hilarious rests entirely with the buoyancy of Richard E. Grant, who survived, barely, his tumultuous boyhood in Swaziland in the late '60s and early '70s, the twilight of England's "ruling" class in that breathtaking country. In his writing- directing debut, Grant's wit is at its sharpest in the pan-excesses of these preening colonials, whose "toodle-pip!" antics seem faintly mad. On the dangerous side of mad, there's the consuming love of 11-year-old Ralph's father (Gabriel Byrne) for his mother (Miranda Richardson). When she leaves them for another husband in this nearly incestuous gang, Byrne turns desperate and bitter. A few years later, home during boarding school recess, Ralph (About a Boy's Nicholas Hoult) finds a new stepmother, spirited Yank Ruby (Emily Watson). She puts Ralph solidly on her side when she calls the Brits' airs and jargon pure "Wah-wah," and when she helps with his intricate puppet theater. Yet Richardson's "Mummy" is never entirely gone, poisoning the chances of this second marriage. Played against this stunning scenery, Wah-Wah (the first film made in Swaziland) is a bravura debut, with an entire cast of full-blooded characters and an astonishing vein of tenderness.